The Sugar Land Skeeters had a mixed blessing in June when star closer Felipe Paulino had his contract purchased by the Houston Astros and he was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.
Last week, the 35-year-old pitcher left the Express and returned to Sugar Land, where he hopes to help the independent Skeeters defend their Atlantic League championship.
“I enjoyed my time and I’m really happy to be back here with the Sugar Land Skeeters,” the Venezuelan native said. “Back here, I’m happy here, this is my home. I just want to be a part of the Sugar Land Skeeters playoff games.”
Paulino made 22 appearances with Round Rock, earning seven saves and striking out 22 batters in 20 2/3 innings. He was one level away from returning to the Astros, where he began his Major League Baseball career in 2007.
He also appeared at the major league level with the Colorado Rockies (2011), Kansas City Royals (2011-12) and Chicago White Sox (2014). He’s 13-34 with a 5.22 ERA in 97 major league games.
Paulino first joined the Skeeters in 2017, and his 63 career saves are second-most in club history, trailing former major league right-hander Gary Majewski (72). Paulino set the Skeeters single-season record and led the Atlantic League with 33 saves in 2018.
Through 22 appearances this season, Paulino was 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA and was second in the league with 14 saves at the time his contract was purchased. His 33 strikeouts were also the most of any Atlantic League reliever at the time.
“We were all hoping he’d get called up and get to the big leagues with the Astros, but if that’s not going to happen, Pauly’s been one of the best pitchers in this league for the last three years,” Skeeters Manager Pete Incaviglia said. “He’s been dominating as a closer in this league. He had 30-plus saves for us last year. It’s a huge piece to have back in that bullpen, so we’re excited and happy to have him back.”
Paulino said he was thankful for another shot at affiliated ball.
“In my 19-year career, just to get another opportunity to prove I still can still pitch, I’m really happy. I enjoyed my short time up there,” he said.
The Houston area has been Paulino’s home the last 12 years and his family is here. At 35, he doesn’t know how many more chances he’ll have at another championship. The Skeeters have secured one of four playoff spots.
“I want to keep pitching a few more times,” he said. “At some point I’ll retire, but I want to squeeze everything I can into this moment and be active as a player.”
Added Incaviglia: “He’s one of the clubhouse leaders, he’s a leader in the bullpen, he’s a leader on the pitching staff and quite frankly the ballclub. He’s very well-respected in the clubhouse as well he should be. He goes about his business the right way. He’s a complete professional, he cares about winning, he cares about the organization and he cares about his teammates.”
Home sweet home
The Skeeters have struggled lately, losing three of four on the road to the division rival and leader York Revolution. Sugar Land returned to Constellation Field on Friday and swept the High Point Rockers in a three-game weekend series. On Tuesday the Skeeters started a three-game home series against the Revs, who began the set with a three-game lead in the second-half standings.
In addition to re-signing Paulino, pitcher Brett Eibner was assigned to the Skeeters.
The Skeeters host the York Revolution Tuesday through Thursday and then hit the road to play Liberty Division leader Long Island Ducks for three games, the Somerset Patriots for three games and then the New Britain Bees for four games. They return to Constellation Field Sept. 17 for the final home stand of the regular season with three games against the Patriots and three with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. The Skeeters host the first two games of the Freedom Division Championship Series on Sept. 24-25.
Skeeter of the Week
Catcher Albert “Coco” Cordero, who has been up and down this season, belted two home runs in Friday’s 7-2 win over the Rockers and had just notched an RBI with a double on Saturday when he tweaked his hamstring and had to leave the game.
Atlantic League standings
W L GB
York Revolution 31 19 0
Sugar Land Skeeters 28 22 3
S. Maryland Blue Crabs 24 26 7
Lancaster Barnstormers 21 29 10
W L GB
Long Island Ducks 28 21 0
High Point Rockers 25 23 3.5
New Britain Bees 23 26 5
Somerset Patriots 19 31 9.5
Aug. 26 Revolution 8, Skeeters 7
Aug. 27 Skeeters 11, Revolution 4
Aug. 28 Revolution 9, Skeeters 7
Aug. 29 Revolution 6, Skeeters 4
Aug. 30 Skeeters 7, Rockers 2
Aug. 31 Skeeters 8, Rockers 3
Sept. 1 Skeeters 3, Rockers 0