Baby steps: Paulino showing improvement

By no means is Felipe Paulino dominating Cactus League opponents. But there are signs that he might be ready to make a contribution to the Chicago White Sox starting rotation.

The right-hander, who hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2012 when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals, had an up-and-down outing Friday against the Cincinnati Reds and eventually went out with a flourish.

Paulino gave up a two-run home run to Jay Bruce in the first inning, but finished his outing with a 1-2-3 third inning that included strikeouts of Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwick. He also got back at Bruce by getting him to ground out.

“Last inning he was in there he was a little sharper,” manager Robin Ventura told reporters in Arizona. “He probably threw some pitches he wants back, but down here he’s working on stuff and got one up to Bruce. Early on I thought he was up in the zone, then the last inning he was a little down in the zone where he was a little more effective down there.”

Paulino, who has undergone Tommy John surgery as well a shoulder cleanout since he was last in a big league game, exudes complete confidence.

“I was mixing up my spots and executing,” Paulino said. “The good thing is that my four pitches are great. I need to execute at the right moments. The only way we can fix that is to pitch in games. I’m really blessed to be in games again. Just back to the games is easy for me, and I need to keep doing it and keep working out. I know everything will come together soon. We’ll see what happens.”

The outing was an improvement on his Cactus League debut when he gave up four runs on eight hits in just 2 2/3 innings against the Texas Rangers last weekend. He did throw 32 of his 48 pitches for strikes in that outing, though, and was at least getting ahead of hitters.

As the rotation lines up now, Paulino would be the No. 3 starter when the season begins. It’s not that the coaching staff necessarily considers him the third best arm, but the White Sox want to break up their left-handers while also breaking up their starters who are less of a guarantee.

Paulino is part of that latter group, along with whoever wins the final rotation spot. Erik Johnson is getting the first crack at that post.

Even if Paulino does make the rotation, there is no certainty of how many innings he can give the club,. But he remains confident he can do the job.

“I feel great,” he said. “My arm is coming around great right now and I like how I recovered the last four days, and I believe my next four days will be better. I don’t know how my speed was coming out today, but I knew the first time my speed was coming out good. That means it’s there. The only thing is making good pitches, execute at the right moment and in the end have it come together.”