Journeyman Espino pitches Nationals to sweep of Pirates

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Paolo Espino delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Paolo Espino got his first major league win at age 34, Josh Bell hit a two-run homer against his former team and the Washington Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-1 on Wednesday for a three-game sweep.

Espino (1-2) allowed three hits in five scoreless innings. He struck out two, walked none, and threw 39 of his 53 pitches for strikes, a 74% strike rate.

“I didn’t know how far they were going to let me go, so I was just focusing on being efficient,” Espino said.

Washington has won four straight, matching its longest winning streak of the season. The Pirates extended their skid to 10 games.

Max Scherzer (groin) was placed on the 10-day injured list Tuesday. The Nationals debated who to use in his rotation spot before settling on Espino, who was drafted in 2006 and made his fifth career big league start. Manager Dave Martinez had Espino speak to the team afterward.

“That’s awesome,” Martinez said of Espino’s first win. “Really is.”

Brad Hand got the final five outs, allowing consecutive two-out singles in the ninth before retiring the side for his 13th save.

Yan Gomes hit his seventh homer of the season in the second inning off Chase De Jong (0-1). Bell hit a 1-0 fastball into the right-center field stands, his ninth homer of the year, to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead in the seventh.

Bryan Reynolds singled home Ke’Bryan Hayes in the eighth for the Pirates’ only run.

“We’ve just got to keep going,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “There’s no magic elixir. If there was, we would have used it already.”

The Nationals loaded the bases with one out in the fourth and sixth innings but did not score. Jordy Mercer struck out and Victor Robles flied out in the fourth. Ryan Zimmerman’s flyout to deep center on a 2-0 pitch from Chris Stratton ended the later threat.

The Nationals came into the day ranked 28th in the majors in on base-plus-slugging percentage with the bases loaded.


The Nationals placed third baseman Starlin Castro on the restricted list Wednesday and called up second baseman Luis García.

Castro has “family matters” to attend to, Martinez said. The veteran left the team Tuesday night. There is no timetable for his return.

“He needs to take care of the issues that he has,” Martinez said. “When he comes back, we’ll welcome him with open arms.”

Martinez will use matchups to determine his starting infield. The left-handed García will play second against righties. Veteran Jordy Mercer will get regular starts at third, and Josh Harrison will platoon with García and start taking more groundballs at third.

Castro’s .599 OPS is near the bottom of the league among regular third baseman.


Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (neck) threw lightly in the outfield Wednesday. There is no timetable for his return, but Martinez said the throwing session was a good first step for one of the Nationals’ most important players. Strasburg has made just five starts this season. He was placed on the 10-day injured list on June 2.


The Nationals are off Thursday before opening a four-game home series against the NL East-leading New York Mets. Erick Fedde (4-4, 3.86 ERA) will start Friday’s opener. Pittsburgh begins a three-game home series with Cleveland on Friday. Chad Kuhl (0-4, 6.52) is scheduled to start.