Astros move Paulino to bullpen
Fulchino likely headed to Triple-A when Moehler returns
ATLANTA -- Brian Moehler is ready to come off the disabled list and is scheduled to start Tuesday in Washington, which means Felipe Paulino's tenure as a starting pitcher is over -- for now.
Paulino will move to the 'pen and serve as a long reliever. His strong right arm and solid performance as a substitute starter will also serve as a reminder to a couple of the veteran starters that there is someone more than capable of taking their job.
For now, Moehler and Russ Ortiz will maintain their rightful spots in the rotation. That can change at any time, however.
"The other two guys are veteran pitchers, and we think they deserve at least an opportunity to continue pitching in the rotation," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We'll give them an opportunity. If there's failure, we've got a guy sitting out there we like an awful lot. Let's put it that way."
That would be a reference to Paulino, who was winless in three starts but could have easily walked away from the experience with a 3-0 record. He recorded a 2.55 ERA by throwing six scoreless innings in his first start, allowing four runs over six frames in his second and allowing two runs -- one earned -- over 5 2/3 innings, with little help from his defense, in his final start.
Moving Paulino to the 'pen gives the Astros the hard-throwing long reliever they've lacked this season. It also gives them hope that Paulino, hampered by injuries for much of his professional career, can finally be a contributor in the rotation in the coming years.
"We talked to him, told him what we were doing, why we were doing it," Cooper said, referring to a closed-door meeting he and pitching coach Dewey Robinson had with Paulino. "We asked him to grade himself and his performance. He was very happy with what he's accomplished so far, and we expressed that we were as well."
Cooper told Paulino that he belonged at the Major League level.
"He showed us something," Cooper said. "He went about his business the right way. Two years ago, I couldn't have said that. He's done his thing, man. I'm very happy."
Paulino sounded more optimistic than disappointed that he was no longer in the rotation.
"I'm just going to do my job, just give 100 percent like I did when I was a starter," he said. "I just have to throw the ball like I did before, and we'll see what happens. This is better than going to the Minor Leagues."
Moehler, meanwhile, will return to the rotation on Tuesday when the Astros wrap up their short two-game series in Washington. He concluded his two-start rehab stint on Wednesday with Double-A Corpus Christi, and while the line score didn't look so good, it was, for the most part, a positive outing.
Moehler, pitching in windy Midland, Texas, allowed eight runs over five innings, but all of the runs were allowed in the first two innings. He sailed through the final three, retiring his final 11 batters.
Asked if the windy conditions contributed to the barrage of runs allowed, Moehler laughed and said, "Well, I didn't give up any home runs."
He did, however, mix in his changeup, with good results.
"They just came out swinging," Moehler said. "I forgot what it was like pitching in Double-A -- they came out hacking. We got two outs in the second and [catcher] Koby [Clemens] said, 'What do you want to do?' I said, 'Let's start throwing some changeups.' I sat down 11 in a row."
Moehler, who will wear a brace to protect his right knee, said he was sore after the game but added it was not a cause for alarm.
"My body's just hurting," he said. "I hadn't thrown that many pitches  in a month. But I felt pretty good today."
Reliever Jeff Fulchino is the likely candidate to be demoted when Moehler is activated Tuesday.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.