Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Paolo Espino made his major league debut on Friday against the defending champion Chicago Cubs. His debut seems very similar to a famous Brewers one-game wonder.
Let’s go back to April 24, 2004. The Brewers were facing off against the St. Louis Cardinals that possessed a powerful lineup that featured Albert Pujols, Edgar Renteria, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen. The starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers that day was Chris Saenz, who was called up from Double-A Huntsville the day before and made his major league debut.
Saenz absolutely dominated the Cardinals, going six innings, allowing only two hits, no runs, and striking out seven on 93 pitches. Saenz retired 14 straight at one point. He struck out Cardinal lead-off man Bo Hart three times that day. Only four pitchers in baseball history have started only one Major lLeague game, threw six or more scoreless innings and record the win. Saenz was one of them, and the first since 1899.
The then 22-year-old Saenz made his Major League debut because of an injury to Chris Capuano and it timed out just right. I was at the lone game that Chris Saenz pitched in the Major Leagues and it is still one of the most dominant pitching performances I observed in person. But after that game, Saenz went back to the Minor Leagues and we never heard from him again.
Later in the 2004 season, Saenz blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2005 and 2006. The Milwaukee Brewers ended up releasing him and he bounced around for a few years, but never again reached the Major Leagues.
How does this relate to Paolo Espino?
Espino isn’t a heralded prospect but he got the call over Josh Hader and Brandon Woodruff, and he’s making a spot start, just like Saenz, and won’t be up for good. After the removal of Wily Peralta from the rotation, the Brewers needed a starter to hold his spot until Junior Guerra is back from the DL.
Espino should return Triple-A after his start against the Cubs. Due to the quantity of starting pitching prospects in the system, Espino is unlikely to get the call when there’s a long term opening.
But the performances of Saenz and Espino in their debuts are similar as well. Both faced potent lineups, both struck out the first batter they faced, and led their team to victory. Espino faced a powerful Cubs lineup that included Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber compared to the 2004 Cardinals lineup with Pujols, Renteria, and Rolen.
Although Espino was unable to record the win after going only four innings, the team was still able to pull out a victory. Much like Chris Saenz, the team believed Espino had earned another start due to his performance. Yet, another start won’t happen because Junior Guerra will return soon and Espino was optioned back to Triple-A.
One of the most impressive aspects of Paolo Espino’s debut was that he allowed no walks. Keep in mind this was on a cold, windy, and rainy day in Chicago where it is not easy to pitch at all.
Espino is recognized for his control and not allowing very many walks but on a day like Friday was difficult. The Cubs pitching staff walked ten batters on the day including five by starter Eddie Butler in only three innings of work.
The Cubs pitchers had full counts against Brewer hitters all day long. Espino never had that problem. He was efficient, which is more than we can say about the rest of the rotation this year, throwing only 45 pitches through the first three innings until he ran into some trouble in the fourth. Espino retired the first six batters he faced until a Keon Broxton error in the third led to an unearned run.
Overall, Espino finished with four innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs, no walks, and three strikeouts on 71 pitches. That’s a great day at the office considering the weather and the quality of the opposing lineup.
What’s Different Between Saenz and Espino?
First, Saenz was 22 years old in his debut and got the call from Double-A by the organization that drafted him. Espino is a 30 year old journeyman who has been at Triple-A since 2010 with three different organizations.
Second, Espino still has a good chance of pitching again in the Major Leagues again. The rebuilding Brewers could provide him another opportunity should they need a spot start.
Chris Saenz had one day in the Major Leagues and made the most of it. Espino earned his first day with the Brewers and he made the most of it as well. So could Espino be the next one-game wonder that Chris Saenz was? I hope not.
Injuries brought down a promising career for Saenz and hopefully Espino will avoid the same fate. Perhaps another opportunity will arise for Espino either with the Brewers or another organization down the road.
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said before the game that people can’t help but root for guys like Paolo Espino, and he’s absolutely right. Espino should make another start for the Brewers and go on to have opportunities in the future.
If Espino can continue his success after his likely return to Triple-A, we could see him again soon. A rebuilding club like the Milwaukee Brewers are looking at who gets the best results, and as long as he can get results, he will get opportunities.