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Espino rebounds in EL Finals opener

IMG Academy baseball program alum, Paolo Espino, is playing for an Eastern League Championship

Paolo Espino came out on the losing end of Akron's playoff opener six days ago, dropping a 4-2 decision to Bowie in Game 1 of the Eastern League semifinals. The veteran right-hander got the ball again in Game 1 of the Championship Series and made sure he did not get off to the same rocky start.

Espino allowed two hits over seven innings Tuesday night, pitching the Aeros to a 3-0 victory over the Trenton Thunder and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 EL Finals.

"I wasn't thinking about that last game, the first game against Bowie," the Indians farmhand said. "Tonight, everything just came together right."

The 25-year-old had trouble finding the strike zone with his fastball early at Canal Park. He hit a batter and walked two more to load the bases with one out in the fourth. But the Thunder came away empty as Espino struck out Yankees' No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin and retired Kevin Mahoney on a popup.

"At the beginning of the game, my fastball command wasn't there as much, so I was working more on my off-speed stuff early on," said Espino, who ended up walking four and striking out three. "Then, later in the game, my fastball was getting better, so I went back to throwing more fastballs."

The six-year veteran allowed just one hit after the difficult fourth -- a double by David Adams in the fifth -- before turning things over to the bullpen. Shawn Armstrong and Preston Guilmet each worked an inning to close out Akron's first postseason shutout.

"I think this was definitely one of my best games," Espino said. "There hasn't been a game where I've gone deeper and given up that many hits. I was having a little trouble with my command; I walked a few guys. But later in the game, everything came my way and my command was a little better. It was definitely one of my best starts this season."

A 10th-round pick in 2006, the native of Panama has allowed one run or fewer in five of his last nine starts. Tuesday, however, was the first time he did not give up a run since a five-inning outing on May 28.

The Championship Series is familiar territory for Espino, who picked up the win in the Governors' Cup clincher for Triple-A Columbus last September. He spent time at both levels each of the past three seasons, appearing in the postseason for the Clippers in 2010-11.

"It gives me a little more confidence, having worked in the playoffs in Triple-A last year and the year before," Espino said. "I've pitched up there before, so I think I can do it here, too. Why not?

"I'm really happy that we got this first win. Getting the first win of the Championship Series gives the team a little breather, makes us a little more relaxed."

Akron gave Espino a lead in the second as Tyler Holt and Indians' No. 14 prospect Chun-Hsiu Chen opened the inning with singles and moved up on a wild pitch by Thunder starter Brett Marshall (0-2). Holt raced home on another wild pitch and Matt Lawson lifted a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.

Holt sparked the Aeros again in the sixth with a leadoff triple and Chen doubled him home.

Marshall took the loss after allowing all three runs on six hits over six innings.

Game 2 is Wednesday in Akron before the series shifts to Trenton.

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