GLENDALE, Ariz. — White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper stood behind Felipe Paulino's right shoulder Monday morning on a practice field at Camelback Ranch, offering advice and encouragement as Paulino threw on the third day of spring training.
Paulino gladly listened. The 30-year-old right-hander, whom the Sox signed this offseason to likely fill out the back end of the rotation, is relieved to be back in a place in his career where learning has replaced healing on the agenda.
"I've had my ups and downs in my career, but I'm still here," Paulino said. "And that's a part of baseball, any sport. We have injuries. The good thing now is I'm still learning. I'm here just to learn with Cooper. I listen no matter what. Every day I will try to take a step and improve."
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Camelback Ranch, Phoenix, AZ, USA
White Sox Dugout, Chicago, IL 60616, USA
Paulino is 13-32 with a 4.93 ERA in five seasons with the Astros, Rockies and Royals. He was off to a 3-1 start with a 1.67 ERA in seven starts with the Royals in 2012, but injuries have prevented him from pitching in a major league game since June 6 of that season.
He had surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in July 2012 and expected to be ready the following June. But shoulder problems limited him to seven minor league appearances last season before he underwent minor shoulder surgery.
"I was fighting with my shoulder for the last couple of months," Paulino said. "But in the end I said, 'Enough.' I felt like I couldn't push anymore. That was tough for me. … It was minor, but forget about it now. I'm healthy, and the good thing is I'm ready to do my thing here with the White Sox."
Paulino is practicing this spring without restrictions, and he said his return to health has made him feel like a "normal guy" again. The Sox will pay him $1.5 million this season — with a $4 million club option for 2015 or a $250,000 buyout — with the hope he can bounce back.
"He will dictate a lot of that by how he does down here," manager Robin Ventura said. "How you use him depends. I'm not going to stick him in there if he's not ready to go, but he looks healthy and ready to go, so down here we'll find out."
The Sox have added a few pitchers who might be considered projects, coming off injuries or down seasons. Cooper said he takes pride in working with such players to help them rebound. Paulino could be next.
"I like guys like that," Cooper said. "We've done well with that. If you do well with enough of those, it gives you a chance to keep your job. I like that.
"My goal is, I don't care who you are or how many years you're playing … I'm looking for you to have the best year you've ever had. I want you to have a career year with us, under my watch. We don't succeed on all of them, but we've done a pretty good job with it."