Paulino gets his chance: 'It's big'

Felipe Paulino gets his first chance to make an impression on the coaching staff Sunday all while knowing that two starting rotation spots are up for grabs.

The right-hander, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game in nearly two years, will start for the White Sox today at Surprise, Ariz., against the Texas Rangers. The 30-year old has a ton of questions he needs to answer following surgical procedures on both his elbow and shoulder in the last year and a half.

That still didn’t scare the White Sox away from committing $1.75 million in him this year with a $4 million option for 2015 if they like what they see. What surely inspired the White Sox to take the financial gamble was Paulino’s start to the 2012 season when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

After a decidedly mediocre major league run that saw him bounce from the Houston Astros to the Colorado Rockies and then to the Royals, Paulino entered 2012 with three times more defeats than victories and a career ERA over 5.00.

Something clicked in that 2012 season, though, as Paulino was 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA over seven starts. Then disaster struck when an elbow injury led to Tommy John surgery. Last season his injury rehab was aborted when shoulder discomfort required an arthroscopic procedure to resolve the issue.

“In the end that’s in the past,” Paulino said shortly after camp got underway. “I’m thinking about the future right now and trying to do everything I can. The good thing is I’m healthy and ready to compete. I just want to do everything I can here.”

Pitching coach Don Cooper has already worked over some rough spots in Paulino’s delivery and has pronounced things to be more on tack now. Cooper doesn’t have a ton of knowledge on Paulino but after one bullpen session in the desert he saw a delivery that didn’t look familiar to one he saw on video.

As good as Cooper has been in the past at reclamation projects, finding the 2012 Paulino, as opposed to the 2009 Paulino (3-11, 6.27 ERA with the Astros), will take some doing.

For now, Cooper is taking a realistic approach.

“You are going to see a lot of things,” Cooper told reporters in Arizona on Friday. “Good things happen. You’ll see a lot of that. And you’ll see some of the flaws people have. That’s nothing more than the area to focus on and concentrate on and try to improve on. It’s what you kind of get from the games. Hey, I expect him to go out and get everybody out and make all the pitches.”

At the very least, the White Sox will see a baseline from where they can work from with Paulino.

“I’m expecting us to get the job done and him to go out there and start,” Cooper said. ‘His process has started, but as far as I’m concerned, when the game starts, that’s when it really takes off. You’ll get to see where he’s at. You can’t really tell batting practice and sidelines.”

Paulino was scheduled to pitch in winter ball but he bypassed that option to show what he can do in spring training. Now his chance has arrived.

“I feel like the same guy in 2012,” Paulino said. “I feel stronger. I only want just to pitch right now. It’s big. Last year I didn’t pitch a lot. But the good thing, my arm feels strong and I enjoy facing hitters.”