Felipe Paulino is bound to have some flashbacks Wednesday when he takes the mound as the White Sox' No. 2 starter and faces the Twins.
His last major-league start was also against Minnesota, on June 6, 2012.
Pitching for the Royals at the time, Paulino felt pain in his right elbow in the first inning and was forced to leave the game.
"It wasn't a good feeling," he recalled.
Less than a month later, the 6-foot-3, 270-pounder had Tommy John surgery and he was limited to 7 starts last year with Class AA Northwest Arkansas and AAA Omaha.
"To be back here in the big leagues, it's a blessing," Paulino said. "You never know if you're going to get another chance."
Signed by the Sox to a one-year, $1.75 million contract with a $4 million club option for 2015, Paulino is not only back, he's following ace Chris Sale in the rotation.
"He's one of the five starters," Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Paulino. "You start to look at how many lefties we have and be able to mix and match with those guys. He looked better as of late in just being to locate, and early on command was an issue. He's gotten stronger as the spring's gone along. So that's the spot where we felt comfortable with putting him and we feel confident."
Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks are the White Sox' top three starters, but they are all left-handers. That's why Paulino is in the No. 2 slot, followed by Quintana, right-hander Erik Johnson and Danks.
"I don't think the order really matters that much," the 30-year-old Paulino said. "We are all going to help each other and try to win as many games as we can."
With a healthy elbow and a cutter that he added late in spring training, Paulino could be a huge bargain for the Sox. But considering his career 13-32 record and 4.93 ERA in stints with the Astros, Rockies and Royals, Paulino could also be keeping a rotation spot warm for a minor-leaguer like Chris Beck, Andre Rienzo or Chris Bassitt.
"I'm here to do my job, and I thank the White Sox for giving me the opportunity," Paulino said. "I'm healthy now, that's the main thing. I'm ready to compete and I'm going to do everything I can to stay here."