Struggles have Felipe Paulino on notice

CHICAGO -- The cruel reality for the Chicago White Sox is that while the offense is now a joy to watch, plenty of issues remain with the pitching staff.

That offseason gamble the White Sox took on Felipe Paulino hasn’t come close to paying off thus far. The fact that the club invested a guaranteed $1.75 million into the project means it is expected to continue.

Paulino was rocked for six runs over five innings and never had a handle on Cleveland’s offense. He gave up back-to-back home runs so quickly in the fifth inning that the bullpen appeared slow to start warming.

And that might not necessarily have been bad news.

As worrisome as Paulino and rookie starter Erik Johnson have been thus far, the bullpen might be in an even bigger crisis. With six runs allowed in four innings Saturday, the bullpen’s ERA rose to 7.53. Not only that, but the group has allowed 23 walks in 34 2/3 innings.

It’s not like Paulino has made life easy on the relievers. In his three starts, he has yet to last more than 5 1/3 innings but already has thrown 314 pitches on the year after 106 on Saturday.

“It’s just falling behind,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “With this kind of lineup that these guys have, they grind you out. If you’re not willing to be in the strike zone, you’re going to give them some extra opportunities and then be able to stay away from the middle of the plate.

“It just has to be better.”

Before this season, Paulino last pitched in the major leagues in June 2012 with the Kansas City Royals. Since then, he’s undergone Tommy John surgery and had a shoulder procedure.

“My arm is OK,” Paulino said. “I feel like everything is OK right now. The thing right now is just try to understand the situation, what has happened to me the last two years. Just keep working and figure it out. It’s the little things I’m looking for to be successful and try to go deep into the game.”

The White Sox do have Andre Rienzo at Triple-A, if they were inclined to made a change in the rotation. They also signed right-hander Tommy Hanson earlier this week, but he was first headed to extended spring training and hasn’t yet pitched in a game at Triple-A Charlotte.

Ventura, though, sounded as if he is willing to give Paulino at least one more chance to right himself.

“As of right now we’ll continue to go [with him],” Ventura said. “[But] we have guys in the bullpen, and you can't have those guys coming in the fifth inning. It's just not a recipe that's going to make guys last out there, so it has to be better.”

The bullpen’s issues aren’t completely tied to Paulino, though. Most relievers have been struggling since the outset, except rookie Daniel Webb, who delivered another scoreless inning Saturday while allowing an inherited runner to score.

After giving up two runs, right-hander Ronald Belisario now has a 15.19 ERA. Left-hander Scott Downs has a 16.20 mark and hasn't recorded an out in three of his five outings. Those two pitchers were supposed to be the steadying influences now that right-hander Jesse Crain and lefty Matt Thornton have moved on.

“If they're coming in early, lately we've been having guys go two innings,” Ventura said. “You just can't keep up that kind of pace. [Starters] have to go deeper into a game. At Colorado is one thing, then coming back here is another.”

Jose Quintana pitches Sunday with a deep outing exactly what the White Sox need right now. With Monday’s off day to follow, perhaps the White Sox can get caught up on bullpen rest.

After that, it’s just as Ventura said: “It has to be better.”