In an offseason devoted to lowering the average age of its roster, the Chicago White Sox made an interesting and seemingly contradictory move by signing 30-year-old starting pitcher Felipe Paulino to a one-year, $1.75 million deal — dollar signs strong enough to almost guarantee him a spot in the rotation. With opening day approaching in a little more than a week, Paulino seems locked into that fifth starter position. However, based solely on his spring numbers, you’d never know.
Against the San Francisco Giants today, the veteran fifth starter’s five innings on the mound proved characteristic of the struggles he’s had to find a groove in the Arizona heat. In those five innings, Paulino gave up five runs on eight hits, walking five while striking out three.
It’s been a long and tiring road for Paulino, and so far in 2014, the results don’t add up. Ligament replacement surgery cost him most of 2012 and all of 2013, and since returning to action on the mound, he’s repeatedly reassured reporters that everything feels fine and that now it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together. But based on his spring numbers, those pieces are not in sync right now. Paulino is 1-1 in five games, with a 6.75 ERA, nine walks and 14 earned runs in 18.2 innings. The only high number of his that looks right is his strikeout count, which, at 18 on the spring, leads all White Sox pitchers.
The same day that Paulino faced the heavy-batted Giants, another faction of White Sox took on the San Diego Padres, led by last year’s No. 3-ranked prospect Chris Beck. He threw five innings of five-hit, one-run ball, striking out five and was in line for the win until Dylan Axelrod blew the save in the bottom of the ninth, leading to an irritating 3-3 Spring Training tie. Beck’s gem was the antithesis of Paulino’s performance, though, Beck is due to start the season in the mid-minors, perhaps somewhere around Double-A Birmingham.
I don’t think it’s ever fair to judge a player’s value based on his Spring Training performance. Spring and the regular season are two completely separate parts of the year, and what a player or team does in one has almost no correlation with what will happen in the other. But at the same time, I can’t help but stare skeptically at the fifth slot in the White Sox starting rotation. Paulino hasn’t been pitching like he belongs there, and if his season goes as well as his spring has so far, he won’t last there for long.