Paulino, who pitches for the Astros in tonight's series opener against the Cubs, hasn't won a game in 10 starts this year, in part because he has the worst run support average in the Majors (1.97). Houston has scored only 13 runs in the 59 1/3 innings he's been on the mound.
"He's right on the brink of just taking off, I think," catcher Kevin Cash said. "He's pumping 96, 97 [mph], and with the offspeed pitches that he has, he's real close."
Paulino (0-7, 4.40 ERA) hasn't won a game since his final start of last season. He's dropped 14 of his past 15 decisions and has lost 14 of his last 21 starts, yet the Astros are encouraged. They're encouraged by his work ethic and 98-mph fastball, they're encouraged he struck out 11 Padres on May 8 and pitched eight scoreless innings in his previous start.
"Felipe's got all the weapons to be an outstanding starting pitcher in the big leagues," general manager Ed Wade said. "It's unfortunate we haven't gotten him many runs where he can put some W's up on the board, but this kid has the ability to go out there and be a very successful front-line starting pitcher. We have to continue to give him the baseball, and hopefully one of these days we'll get him enough run support to put a win on the board."
In his seven losses this year, the Astros scored one run four times, two runs twice and four runs once. Paulino threw eight scoreless innings Sunday in Cincinnati, which was only the third time since the 2000 season that an Astros pitcher went at least eight scoreless innings without getting a win. He has four quality starts in his past five games and has posted a 1.80 ERA in his past three starts.
"He's special," Mills said. "Any time you have a guy with an electric arm like that and can do the things he does and you get consistency like he's been able to show his last three starts, that's special."
Astros pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who's worked tirelessly with Paulino to streamline his mechanics by abbreviating his hip turn and finding a consistent arm slot, is encouraged with his progress.
"I'd like to see him out there with a cushion," Arnsberg said. "He's always pitching not to give up a run. It's been a pleasure to watch. As far as being 0-7, I don't think that's affected him at all. He just tries to stay in control of what he's got control of. My motto with him as been, 'Keep going out there and trying to put goose eggs on the board. This offense is going to take off sooner or later.'"
The lack of run support is nothing for Paulino, who went 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA in 23 games (17 starts) last year. In a span of 29 1/3 innings over six starts from Aug. 23-Sept. 20, the Astros didn't score a single run while he was pitching. That hadn't happened in the Majors in 40 years.
Paulino, a product of the Astros' Venezuelan Academy, moved slowly through the system before reaching the Majors in 2007. He didn't make a Major League appearance in 2008 while recovering from a pinched nerve in his right arm, and Wade said it was "high noon" in Paulino's career during Spring Training of 2009.
The Astros couldn't help but be patient considering Paulino's stuff, and they are getting rewarded -- even if they're not getting the wins to show for it.
"There aren't enough arms like that to go around," Wade said. "It seems like he's been here forever and he's 25. He and I had a conversation in September, when he came to me and said he was going to do everything possible this offseason to do what he was capable of doing.
"He stayed here all winter at the ballpark and worked with Humberto Quintero. He's been receptive to the mechanical adjustments Brad Arnsberg has made for him and the results are speaking for themselves."