SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Felipe Paulino is big, 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds. He throws very hard. Get him on the pitching mound and he's an intimidating presence. Just one ingredient needs to be added to the menacing mix.
Yep, that old standby -- throwing strikes. Specifically, low strikes. Royals manager Ned Yost will tell you that.
"It's imperative for Paulino with his stuff -- it's dynamic, it's electric -- he still can't pitch out of the strike zone. He can't pitch up, he can't pitch out. He can pitch effectively in the strike zone when he's down," Yost said.
Paulino had his first Cactus League outing Thursday, working the first two innings of a shutout victory over Colorado, and both parties came away pretty well satisfied.
"My command was good. I thought I was aggressive today," Paulino said Thursday. "I threw a lot of fastballs and just a few pitches were up. We're in Spring Training to work on that and I think the next one will be better. I'm working with the pitching coach [Dave Eiland] to be consistent in keeping my pitches down, but my sinker was good and I got some good ground balls."
Yost's view: "We saw some flashes out of Paulino, things we were looking for. He pitched consistently down. He was a little better in the second inning than he was in the first. His stuff was tremendous."
Paulino, 28, is trying to retain the spot in the Royals' rotation that he held for 20 games last season after being obtained from Colorado in a cash deal. Used in relief by the Rockies, he debuted in that role so impressively with the Royals at Texas that Yost put him into the rotation.
He finished 4-6 for the Royals with a 4.11 ERA, piling up 119 strikeouts in 124 2/3 innings. That ratio of 8.59 strikeouts per nine innings was the fifth highest in Royals history for pitchers with at least 120 innings.
Paulino is competing for the two open spots behind the presumed top trio of Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez, along with Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy, Luis Mendoza and several others.
He was slowed for a few days by a mild hamstring strain.
"Everything is good, it's 100 percent now. I think the trainers did tremendous work to get me back this quick," Paulino said.
Last year Paulino had a tendency to tease the Royals. He could strike out 11 with no walks and allow just two hits in seven innings as he beat Seattle, 4-2, or he could walk five, give up eight hits and expend 107 pitches in 5 1/3 innings as he lost to New York, 7-4.
"It was a very fine line," Yost said. "He would overpower guys at times but, in order for him to become a consistent winner, he's got to command the fastball down in the zone. The same goes for Duffy, the same goes for [Tim] Collins. When they get the ball up, they get hammered."
Although Paulino's history is heavy on starting, a bullpen role certainly isn't out of the question. Whatever the assignment, it depends on his ability -- which he's readily demonstrated in practice sessions -- to throw his fastball for strikes down in the zone.
"If he does, then he'll be able to pitch anywhere. He'll be able to pitch the eighth inning, to be long [relief], to start. He's got that type of stuff," Yost said. "So he should be successful anywhere you put him on the staff."
Clearly Paulino understands what is expected of him.
"My ideal thing this year is to throw fewer pitches per inning," Paulino said. "I'm the sort of guy they want to go as deep as possible into the game. That's my goal this year -- go deeper in the game and make fewer pitches per inning. That's what I'm working on now, just making three or four pitches per hitter."
And Paulino doesn't mind at all that batters might find his formidable appearance as he stands on the rubber somewhat intimidating. He was counseled in that regard by one of the best.
"I learned this from Roger Clemens when we played on the Astros. I met with him and he gave me some tips -- just to go out there and have an attitude," Paulino said.
In the clubhouse or when he and wife Paola are with friends, Paulino is a genial guy.
"People say I'm a different guy outside the lines. But when you're on the field, you don't want to be friendly," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.