Cabrera (0-1) has received high marks for the quality of his changeup, which has helped him put up high strikeout totals the last two years in the Minors.
But all that occurred in Class A and Double-A. The Rockies called him up from Double-A Tulsa (8-4, 2.94 ERA, 82 strikeouts in 98 innings) for Wednesday's start, and the National League East-leading Nationals (43-30) gave him an education at the highest level.
"Two balls and no strikes, three balls and one strike, Major League hitters versus hitters in Double-A shrink the strike zone on you," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "They're looking for something very specific. As a result, there were a couple balls hit out of the ballpark, there were some balls hit hard. At one point he had something like three out of 14 hitters with first-pitch strikes. That's not a good place to be making your Major League debut.
"But that is no indication of where this kid is going to go during the course of his Major League career."
Five of the seven runs against Cabrera were earned, but he couldn't point much of an accusing finger, since he hurt his own cause by walking three, against one strikeout. Just 33 of his 65 pitches were strikes.
Espinosa's smoked line drive came on a 3-1 pitch. With hitters able to expect Cabrera's fastball, which he overthrew and wasn't able to sink, the changeup wasn't much of a factor.
"I was trying to throw my fastball really, really good in, and tried not to miss pitches, but that's what happened," Cabrera said. "I missed a lot of pitches."
Cabrera admitted excitement might have gotten the better of him.
"I was excited for my first time in the big leagues, and I was a little bit nervous in the first inning," Cabrera said. "There are really good hitters here. Really good mentality, really good approach. I threw a couple of really good changeups, but they were waiting for the changeups and they could hit them."
Tracy indicated that Cabrera would have another chance, but it isn't clear when. The Rockies are working with a four-man rotation, but Cabrera has been pitching every fifth game in Tulsa. So expect some juggling before he takes the mound again. He may have the opportunity to make the next start in St. Louis, out of Denver's altitude.
After the Nats pounded out 21 hits -- their most in a game since moving to Washington in 2005 -- in Tuesday's 12-5 victory, the Nationals had 14 hits on Wednesday. It was the first time they scored in double figures in consecutive games since 2007.
The four-game series ends Thursday afternoon.
The reeling Rockies (28-46), who fell to 7-17 in June, managed one run on eight hits and three walks in seven innings against Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann (4-6), who struck out just one, but held the Rockies to 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"My stuff was OK, got ground balls when I needed to," Zimmermann said. "I had runners on base quite a bit was able to wiggle out of jams."