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Quick change for Felipe Paulino in White Sox debut

First start in nearly two years shaky, but ditching slider helps him survive after rocky second inning

Brian Kersey

Felipe Paulino's first start in nearly two years registered as a success of sorts. Sure, it would've been preferable if he finished six innings. And yes, everybody would've loved it if he didn't walk in that run in the second inning.

Really, though, it's going to be in a work in progress. For one, Paulino's track record was rather limited before he had Tommy John surgery, followed by shoulder surgery. Beyond that, when we looked at the comeback trails for those who underwent Tommy John surgery, shaky command seemed to be a trademark for even accomplished pitchers.

That being the case, the assessments of his outing were on the positive side:

"Yeah, I mean this game is about adjustments," Paulino said. "Second inning, I threw a lot of pitches, but I think I see in that inning how they’re coming to me, the Twins. And after that I made my adjustment and was pretty decent after that. Making my good pitches, mix it up a little bit what they’re looking for."

When you look at his Brooks game log, you can spot the adjustment rather easily: He basically stopped throwing his slider.

Over the first two innings, Paulino threw 14 sliders and five cutters out of 52 pitches. Over his last 3⅓ innings and 57 pitches? Two sliders and zero cutters.

In place of the hard breaking balls, he threw his changeup far more frequently -- 23 times over those last 57 pitches.

That's a pretty remarkable transformation. Paulino's changeup has been a distant third or fourth pitch for him throughout his career, and he never threw more than 19 of them in any other start. In his White Sox debut, he threw 30 changeups.

That definitely didn't look like Plan A, but his slider command was awful from the start and showed no signs of getting better. Even going back to spring training, that pitch didn't sparkle for him, so perhaps he and Don Cooper knew to throw in the towel for the slider earlier than normal and try to scrape by on two pitches instead. That makes 5⅓ innings of two-run ball look like more of an accomplishment.

Starting off with such a departure makes it harder to peg where he goes from here, because White Sox Paulino is a rather big departure from Career Paulino by the numbers:

Career White Sox
Pitch Frequency Velocity Frequency Velocity
Fastball 57.4 95.3 49.5 93.5
Slider 27.5 87.0 13.7 84.4
Changeup 7.4 86.5 27.5 85.4
Curve 7.7 77.6 4.6 75.6
Cutter 0.0 n/a 4.6 86.2

My guess is that Paulino would like to reverse those slider and changeup percentages, and he'd probably like to get comfortable with the cutter to offset the post-surgery decline in velocity. Throwing six effective innings takes precedent, though, so if his ability to throw a slider continues to lag behind, this Survival Mode approach may linger for a while.