Paulino eager for fresh start with Rockies
Hard-throwing righty could be a find for ballclub
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Felipe Paulino is certain he is in the right place. Now he'll have to show that the time is right, as well.
Paulino, 27, whom the Rockies acquired from the Astros for infielder Clint Barmes in November, brings one of the most electric fastballs in the Majors. What he doesn't bring, however, is a successful Major League resume. In 47 games, including 34 starts, he is 6-21 with a 5.83 ERA.
The move has been refreshing for Paulino. He attacked offseason workouts with enthusiasm. He was one of the first pitchers to arrive in the Scottsdale area. After trying to prove to the Astros he could be a consistent starter, Paulino comes to the Rockies not sure which role he'll have. But either way, he is happy to have a role.
"I feel 100 percent positive," said Paulino, who was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in Venezuela -- a country that has produced several current Rockies. "Coming to this team, you've seen what this team has done the last few years. It feels different. You're coming to a winning team. Every year they play better, better and better."
Paulino joins a staff that already has a full rotation, so unless something unforeseen happens, his best chance at the start of the year could be in long relief. The Rockies are confident, however, that they'll find Paulino's true place.
The Rockies have shown affection for pitchers like Paulino. The current roster includes right-handed starter Jason Hammel and right-handed reliever Matt Belisle, two highly touted pitchers who couldn't find success with their previous organizations but have found their footing with the Rockies. Colorado did the same a few years back with left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, formerly an inconsistent starter who found a home in the Rockies' bullpen and now pitches for the Giants.
Also, the Rockies have seen Paulino at his best -- against them. Paulino has faced the Rockies four times as the opposing starter. The first outing was a struggle -- eight runs, seven earned, and eight hits in a loss on May 12, 2009. Over the next three meetings, however, Paulino posted a 2.70 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 20 innings.
"This could end up being a real gem for us," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "I'm not saying it's going to play itself out that way, but it has the potential to. It's a very special arm, no getting around that. I've managed a couple games against this guy where it was a moral victory for us to foul a couple balls back to the screen by the fifth inning. That's the truth."
Some of Paulino's struggles have been because of injuries. He didn't appear in the Majors in 2008 because of a pinched nerve in his throwing shoulder. He missed part of 2009 with a right groin strain. Last year was interrupted by right shoulder problems, first diagnosed as tendinitis and later found to be a rotator cuff strain.
But there have been issues with his command. In 2009 in 97 2/3 innings, he struck out a healthy 93 against 37 walks, but yielded 20 home runs and a .317 batting average against. Last year, he threw 91 2/3 innings and saw a drop in strikeouts, to 83, and a rise in walks, to 46, although he yielded just four homers.
Some of his past performances paint the picture of a pitcher who could function better in the bullpen, since making adjustments as games progress has been a problem. But the Rockies haven't made that decision. Pitching coach Bob Apodaca is not only learning what Paulino can do physically but is also taking a look at his mental approach. The club feels Paulino could follow the tract of Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa, who has excelled in purple pinstripes after not breaking through with several other clubs.
For Paulino, it comes back to a fastball he can consistently bring in the 97 mph range. It's why the Rockies are taking a chance on Paulino, who is out of Minor League options and cannot be sent down without being exposed to other clubs through waivers.
Last year, Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez had, on average, the Majors' highest fastball velocity -- 96.1 mph, according to Fangraphs.com. Paulino averaged 95.5 mph, putting him on the short list of pitchers who can pitch in Jimenez's range, and do it for an entire start.
"In terms of average fastball, he was third last year -- Ubaldo, Stephen Strasburg [before the Nationals' rookie sensation was injured] and him," Rockies assistant general manager Bill Geivett said. "So he's young and has a great arm.
"We talked to Francisco Cataya [a Rockies scout who has helped the team with Latin American talent, especially from Venezuela], who has worked with him in winter ball, and he has made strides year after year in terms of becoming more of a pitcher than a guy with great stuff. So Felipe has been around the Majors long enough to gain traction and have the production that his stuff would indicate."
Paulino can shorten the learning curve by staying healthy, especially after losing more time than he thought was necessary because of last year's shoulder problems.
Placed on the disabled list in late June, Paulino said he was given a cortisone injection, a common treatment for tendinitis, with the anticipation that he would be able to pitch in 15 days. It took longer, so he went to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., who discovered the rotator cuff strain through an MRI exam.
"If they had said I had rotator cuff inflammation or if they had taken an MRI, the treatment would have been different," Paulino said. "But that's something in the past. I don't want to say bad things about the other team. That's just one of those things that happen in the season. I want to look forward. I feel we are going to do something special at this place."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.