When Paolo Espino took the mound to start the Nationals’ penultimate game of 2022, he was on the verge of becoming the pitcher who threw the most innings in a season without winning a game. In 18 previous starts, although his record was 0-8, he always had lasted at least four innings.
Facing the Mets in the second game of a doubleheader, Espino had thrown 113 innings and had moved to no. 2 on this dubious winless list in his loss to the Braves on September 27. On September 12, Espino passed John Malarkey (100⅔ innings for the 1895 Washington Senators) to move into the top 10 on the list of most innings without an official victory.*
Alas, a record-setting performance was not to be. The first three Mets he faced homered. He loaded the bases on two walks and a single before allowing a sacrifice fly. A double scored a fifth run. Manager Dave Martinez came out to take the ball, and Espino walked off the mound, ending his shortest outing of the season. Both runners he left on base eventually scored. His final total: 113⅓ innings pitched and nine losses without a win.
He had needed to last just four and ⅓ innings to match Terry Felton, who was 0-13 over 117⅓ innings for the 1982 Minnesota Twins. But unlike Espino, who was in the Nationals’ rotation from early June until the end of the season, Felton made just six starts in his 48 appearances. The pitcher Espino passed on the 27th, Diego Segui, started seven times in 40 trips to the mound for the 1977 Mariners. Of those with 100 or more innings pitched without a win, only Steve Gerkin, 0-12 for the 1945 Athletics was a starter in more than half his appearance (12 of 21 games).
So Espino seems to be tops in one category: most starts in a season (19) without a victory. Even as fewer starters pitch deep into games, the rule that a starter must pitch at least five innings for a win remains. So middle, one-inning, relief pitchers often pick up so-called “cheap wins.” That’s one of the reasons a pitcher’s won-loss record is far less significant today than it once was.
Espino joined the Nationals’ starting rotation when young prospect Joan Adon, 1-12 with a 7.10 ERA, was sent down. In his starts, Espino left with the lead three times but went five innings in just one of them. Although he wasn’t the winning pitcher, the Nats actually won six of his starts, rallying after he left. Four of Espino’s losses came during the Nationals’ record 43-game stretch without a starting pitcher winning a game.
“The reason,” Nats beat writer Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post wrote, “is a combination of bad luck, Espino’s short leash as a long reliever-turned-starter and Washington’s ineptitude for most of this season.”
Espino, born in Panama, was a 10th-round draft pick by Cleveland in 2006. He didn’t get a taste of the majors until 2017 when he was in six games with the Brewers and six with the Rangers. He didn’t make it back until 2020 with the Nationals.
* This list does not include an 1880 pitcher who played when a pitch was released 45 feet from home plate and a pitcher from a 1927 Negro League team whose game data is incomplete.
This appeared in the Oct. 15, 2022, Here’s the Pitch, the online newsletter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association.