WASHINGTON -- Needing a starting pitcher to step up in place of Stephen Strasburg on short notice, the Nationals called on Paolo Espino to take the mound for Sunday’s series finale against the D-backs. The veteran right-hander got word around 5 o’clock on Saturday and was in action at 1:05 p.m. the next day.
Strasburg was scratched from his third start and placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. Espino, 34, had made a start for the Nats last season, and he continued to impress during Spring Training. He had built up to 85 pitches at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., where his throwing program lined up with Sunday’s matinee.
“I was extremely happy,” Espino said of the callup. “This is something that I always dream of. Every year, this is what I’m doing -- I’m fighting, I’m doing everything that I can to get an opportunity. When they told me, I got very excited. I was happy that I was going to get another shot.”
"It definitely helps when we know guys have experience and have done it before, especially in a pinch like this,” manager Dave Martinez said before the Nats fell, 5-2, against Arizona. “He's one guy that I love having him around, and he's done well.”
Espino gave Washington 4 1/3 innings in his fourth career start. He allowed five hits, two runs (a pair of solo homers, including a leadoff shot by Josh Rojas), one walk and three strikeouts off 75 pitches (48 strikes). Espino leaned on his fastball, which reached 90.1 mph, for the majority of his outing, and he also worked in his slider, curveball and changeup.
Espino said he felt OK physically, but he struggled with his grip as the balls felt “a little dusty.” Martinez would like him to sharpen his breaking ball for his next outing, and Espino plans to work on his offspeed pitches in his next bullpen session.
“He’s willing to learn and understands himself really, really well,” Martinez said. “He was saying he used his fastball a little bit more than what he normally does, but I liked it because he knew that he couldn’t get his curveball where he wanted it to, so he tried to attack the strike zone with his fastball and did well. … I really enjoy watching him because he’s smart, and he understands the game -- he doesn’t give in.”
The Nationals are not putting a timetable on Strasburg’s return. They will weigh their options, which could include last season’s fifth starter Austin Voth -- who was ruled out from starting Sunday because he had thrown consecutive days this week -- or others ramping up at the alternate training site, such as Seth Romero, Ben Braymer and Steven Fuentes, their Nos. 18, 21 and 22 prospects per MLB Pipeline.
Or they could move forward with the veteran Martinez enjoys having as part of the team.
“I can’t predict what the future’s going to be, but I liked what I saw today,” Martinez said. “Right now, I haven’t sat and talked to [general manager Mike Rizzo], but he’s going to get another opportunity.”
“Hopefully, I get more opportunities to keep pitching and prove that I have the level to pitch up here,” Espino said.