We continue the Rookie Review series with Felipe Paulino, who took several strides forward in his development before landing on the DL, this season. There is a possibility he returns this year, but it will be in the capacity as a reliever. While it may be more prudent him shut down, getting him a few innings in September would not be detrimental to his health or development. A few innings would also give an idea of what to expect as we head into an off-season of speculation as well as help build some confidence.
I know technically Paulino is not a rookie, but he's worth mentioning. In just under 100 innings pitched Paulino showed flashes of brilliance, while posting a 6.27 ERA, in 2009. His batting average on balls in play (BABiP) of .368 is high for a pitcher, and indicates Paulino has been fairly unlucky when he pitches. If that lowers and Brad Arnsberg is able to iron out some the kinks in his mechanics we could see a very special pitcher.
In the Spring Arnsberg said that Paulino's mechanics were in need of some work, and with that in mind gave Paulino some things to work on mechanically. Paulino was then challenged to work on his mechanics while at the same time competing for the fifth spot in the rotation with Brian Moehler. Paulino answered the challenge and had a strong spring posting a 3.78 ERA in 16.2 innings of work and won the fifth starter roll.
Paulino didn't start the year off so well, going 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts. His SO/9 for the month was 6.2 below his career average of 8 strikeouts per nine innings. Saying Paulino struggled wasn't the whole story though. His batting average on balls in play (BABiP) which accounts for the luck a pitcher has with balls put in play, shows Paulino a little unlucky with a .314 average. While not tremendously high it still showed that the ball was not bouncing his way. The defense also did nothing to help Paulino's cause. Of the 20 runs allowed in his starts only 13 were earned. Combine all these factors with the continued adjustments Paulino needed to make with his mechanics and it's easy to see why he struggled.
Highlight: Paulino strikes out four.
May was a different story. In six starts, Paulino posted an ERA of 3.82, with a BABiP of .302 it showed what Paulino was capable of. The defense also played better behind him as he allowed 16 earned runs out of 17 total runs scored. His SO/9 was also on the rise as it hit 9.3 in 37.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately with the Astros offense he went 0-4 in May. Still this month showed us what Felipe was capable of as a pitcher.
Highlight: Paulino strikes out eleven.
Paulino took a small step back in May but with a .400 BABiP he may of just been unlucky. Even with a high BABiP there's some positives to take away from the month. He got his first win, he was 1-1 in four starts, posting a 4.39 ERA. His SO/9 went down to 7.4, but his SO/BB ratio went up to 2.44. The two previous months had his SO/BB below 2.00. The reason for the improvement was a decrease in walks allowed. He only allowed 9 walks in 26.2 innings. May he had issued 20 walks, and 14 in April. That's a good sign for a guy with the kind of stuff Paulino has, and speaks to the effort he and Arnsberg had in working on some of his mechanical issues. Unfortunately with the positive signs news came on July 24th that he was heading to the disabled list.
Highlight: Paulino gets his first win.
He was placed on the disabled list retroactive to his last start on the 21st of June, with right shoulder tendinitis. This is not new territory as Paulino had been on the DL before. In 2008 he dealt with a pinched nerve in his right shoulder. Then In 2009 he landed on the 15-day DL with a groin strain. It's a bit concerning that when he initially went on the DL he was expected to be back in early July. A move from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL and two months later, he's still not back in the Astros rotation.
In July while on a rehab assignment Paulino's shoulder flared up after a start for the AA affiliate at Corpus Christi. He had another MRI done which turned out to be a mild right rotator cuff strain. After a nail biting trip to see Dr. Andrews he was told that surgery would not be required. Breathing a sigh of relief he went to rest.
There's been talk of Paulino returning sometime this month in a relief role. He won't be able to go on a rehab assignment to build up arm strength. The minor league teams are wrapping up their seasons. He threw a simulated game Saturday and all indications are that he looked and felt good. He'll throw another one sometime today. Getting back on the mound is important for Paulino to build some confidence heading into next season. Rusty we could see Paulino struggle especially without a rehab assignment, but even if he struggles it'll give him an idea of what he needs to work on heading into next season.
Paulino was not having an entirely bad season, with a 4.40 ERA and a 1-8 record, he was the unluckiest pitcher in the Astros starting rotation. Roy Oswalt just had to deal with a bad offense, Paulino had to deal with a bad offense and balls not bouncing his way. Regardless of his numbers would be considered outstanding for a pitcher manning the five hole of a rotation. His fielder independent pitching (FIP) is 3.84, furthering the idea that Paulino has been a bit unlucky.
Being 26 Paulino still has time to fulfill his potential. While I hope he becomes the ace of this staff I will gladly take a 2 or 3 starter out of Paulino if he can stay healthy. With an already solid rotation, Paulino producing like a middle of the rotation starter, would mean the Astros are just that much closer to fielding a competitive team.