Watching Felipe Paulino throw five scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday, Edwin Jackson came to mind. In both cases, their fastballs have enough juice and life to get away with a lack of precision. Even when he missed the mitt, and even when the Brewers were looking for his fastball, Paulino got popouts.
In the third inning, Jean Segura hit a one-out triple to bring Ryan Braun to the plate. Braun entered the game hitting over .500 this spring, and he anticipated a first-pitch fastball from Paulino. He was correct in doing so, but...
...that's all he could do.
"We worked on a new pitch which is working great, the cutter. Happy with that. We work on that last week with (pitching coach Don) Cooper. … I got a couple popups with that so that helped me get out quick." [...]
"He gives me that confidence, Cooper gives it to me, to let me throw it in the game," Paulino said. "I'm glad with how it's coming. But it's a long season. I want to see how it responds every time. It's something I can add when something is not working I can add it to myself."
I looked for those cutters on MLB.tv, and here's where PITCHf/x would've come in handy. It's hard to get a read on Paulino for a few reasons:
- We haven't spent much time watching Paulino.
- The broadcast didn't carry radar-gun readings, and spring cameras tend to be at severe offsets.
- Paulino threw his fair share of bad sliders, so I'm not quite sure how his cutter sizes up against good sliders.
But hey, for whatever reason, his backup, front-door slider game was working for him, too:
That said, I think I found a couple of those cutters. He grabbed strike one on Aramis Ramirez in the first inning:
Ramirez thought he was getting another one on the next pitch, and he instead chased a fastball around his shoulders for strike two:
Another cutter lured Carlos Gomez into one of those popups Paulino talked about:
New cutters are exciting, but we can't quite call him the second coming of Esteban Loaiza quite yet. His control sputtered early on, which has been a trademark of his spring so far. He walked Braun after getting ahead 0-2, and his four straight balls weren't particularly tempting. Ramirez came to the plate next, and Paulino followed up those two strikes seen above with a fastball that was lower and over the plate (Ramirez singled sharply).
But he's also coming off a year and a half of inactivity, first from Tommy John surgery and then another surgery to clear out a cyst in his shoulder. It shouldn't surprise anybody if he's far from sharp with his entire arsenal. It'd be more troubling if he didn't have his velocity, but watching him attack the Brewers, his fastball certainly seems like a handful.
That's encouraging, and it's even better than he and Cooper have some trust in each other early on. That's another reason Jackson came to mind. Jackson joined the Sox battling big-time walk and inefficiency issues with the Diamondbacks, but Cooper had him stand tall and get a better plane on his fastball, which made his strikes more effective, and pretty much immediately. He never added a cutter, but he had the velocity and stamina to use a fastball-slider approach like a six-inning reliever.
Paulino doesn't have Jackson's durability, but he's shown a similar kind of heat. If his fastball is that difficult to square up, two different fastballs might be a simple-ish way to get him back in a groove until he gets the rest of his feel back. He doesn't need to even be Jackson-good to earn his salary, but whenever a reclamation project enthusiastically takes to a cutter, it's easy to dream big.