StaTuesday: The rarity of Brewers’ Espino’s MLB debut start

Paolo Espino pitched in 291 minor-league games before making his major-league debut with the Milwaukee Brewers on May 19.

It might have been Espino’s first appearance in an MLB uniform, but he was one of the oldest players on the field.

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Milwaukee’s starting lineup featured just two players older than Espino — infielder Eric Sogard (31) and first baseman Eric Thames (also 30, but a few months older) — while the Brewers starter would face seven Cubs who were younger than he was, the exceptions being 36-year-old Ben Zobrist and 32-year-old John Jay.

The difference, of course, is that all four of those above-mentioned players had appeared in the major leagues previously.

To debut in the majors as a starting pitcher at age 30, to say the least, quite rare. Espino is just the 52nd pitcher since 1913 to start in his first game at age 30 or later.

Pitcher Age Date Team
Paolo Espino 30 5-19-2017 Brewers
Toru Murata 30 6-28-2015 Indians
Tsuyoshi Wada 33 7-8-2014 Cubs
Yohan Pino 30 6-19-2014 White Sox
Bobby Cramer 30 9-13-2010 A’s
Kenshin Kawakami 33 4-11-2009 Braves
Koji Uehara 34 4-8-2009 Orioles
Walter Silva 32 4-8-2009 Padres
Hiroki Kuroda 33 4-4-2008 Dodgers
David Manning 30 8-2-2003 Brewers
Chuck Smith 30 6-13-2000 Marlins
Orlando Hernandez 32 6-3-1998 Yankees
Masato Yoshii 32 4-5-1998 Mets
Dennis Springer 30 9-13-1995 Phillies
Tim Fortugno 30 7-20-1992 Angels
Ubaldo Heredia 31 5-12-1987 Expos
Chico Escarrega 32 4-26-1982 White Sox
Ramon Lopez 33 8-21-1966 Angels
Minnie Rojas 32 5-30-1966 Angels
Red Murff 35 4-21-1956 Braves
Pat Scantlebury 38 4-19-1956 Reds
Lino Donoso 32 6-18-1955 Pirates
Pete Wojey 34 7-2-1954 Dodgers
Al Dark* 31 9-27-1953 Giants
Mike Clark 30 7-27-1952 Cardinals
Jocko Thompson 31 9-21-1948 Phillies
Jim Prendergast 30 4-25-1948 Braves
Tommy Fine 32 4-26-1947 Red Sox
Woody Abernathy 31 7-28-1946 Giants
Izzy Leon 34 6-21-1945 Phillies
Steve Gerkin 32 5-13-1945 Athletics
Jug Thesenga 30 9-1-1944 Senators
Ben Chapman* 35 8-4-1944 Dodgers
Tommy de la Cruz 32 4-20-1944 Reds
Walter Signer 32 9-18-1943 Cubs
Hank Leiber* 31 9-25-1942 Giants
Roger Wolff 30 9-20-1941 Athletics
Dick Newsome 31 4-25-1941 Red Sox
Alex Mustaikis 31 7-7-1940 Red Sox
Dick Bass 33 9-21-1939 Senators
Vance Page 32 8-6-1938 Cubs
Tot Pressnell 31 4-21-1938 Dodgers
Jim Turner 33 4-30-1937 Braves
Lou Fette 30 4-26-1937 Braves
Peaches Davis 31 7-11-1936 Reds
Curt Davis 30 4-21-1934 Phillies
Grady Adkins 30 4-13-1928 White Sox
Buzz Wetzel 32 7-25-1927 Athletics
Andy Rush 35 4-16-1925 Dodgers
Josh Martina 34 4-19-1924 Senators
Ray Kremer 31 4-18-1924 Pirates
Petie Behan 33 9-16-1921 Phillies

(* — Chapman and Leiber previously had been outfielders but converted to pitcher during World War II; Dark, the Giants’ starting third baseman, was given a start in a meaningless season finale at cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh to “have a little fun,” according to manager Leo Durocher.)

Among those 52, 22 occurred before baseball was integrated in 1947. Of the remaining 30, only 17 have happened since 1982. And of those 17, six were players who got a late start to their major-league career after coming over from Cuba or Japan.

While Espino certainly had some success, striking out the first batter he faced (Kyle Schwarber) and retiring the first six hitters, he eventually was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth inning on a cold, rainy day at Wrigley Field. His final line was four innings, five hits, three runs (two earned) with three strikeouts.

Espino’s Game Score of 45 ranks just 33rd among those making their starting debuts at 30 years or older.

However, he is one of seven such pitchers since 1961 (i.e. the expansion era) to not give up a home run in his debut and just one of five since 1913 to not allow a walk. The other four were Tommy de la Cruz, Hiroki Kuroda, Minnie Rojas and Dennis Springer.

And before you say, well, Espino only went four innings, we do know the pitch counts of three of those five and Espino (71) was right there with Springer (75) and Kuroda (77).

By the way, the only other Brewers pitcher to make his MLB debut as a starting pitcher at age 30 or more was David Manning in 2003. Like Espino, he went four innings — although Manning allowed seven runs (six earned) on four hits and five walks — in a 7-1 loss to the Montreal Expos. Manning followed that up seven days later, lasting just 2 2/3 innings (allowing six runs on seven hits) in another 7-1 loss, this time to the Florida Marlins and never appeared in the majors again.

Espino hopes for a second chance as well — not to mention a better ending.

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow, Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns