Notes: Paulino anchors staff

Notes: Paulino anchors staff

DENVER -- When manager Jim Tracy looks at his pitching staff's ERA with rookie Ronny Paulino behind the plate, he sees everything he needs to know about the catcher who has helped the team turn its fortunes around. Pitching coach Jim Colborn sees the same thing in Paulino, though he claims ignorance when it comes to stats.

For the record, the Pirates took a 4.48 ERA into Tuesday's play. When Paulino is behind the plate, the figure drops a full run to 3.49.

"We were having some problems with our pitching staff in the early part of the season," Tracy said. "The important thing for us was to stabilize our pitching staff. He's done an unbelievable job of that."

Paulino gives much of the credit to Colborn, who has worked extensively with the rookie to get him up to speed with his pitching staff and the hitters around the league.

"When you have a new staff and you've never worked with those people, you get together with [Colborn] and talk and make sure we're on the same page," said Paulino. "He's been here in this league for a while. This is my first year. He knows more hitters than I do."

But in addition to all the homework Paulino does to learn his staff and the opposing hitters, he also has what Colborn thinks of as a "sixth sense" that helps elevate a catcher's game.

"It's that instinct that I like my pitcher and catcher to make the decisions with," Colborn said. "It's a sense of understanding the hitter and what he might hit in a situation and applying what the pitcher's strength is to that, what the pitcher can do. You can't always match the pitcher's No. 1 strength with the batter's weakness. If you tweak the sequence a little bit, than you can use the pitcher's strength or use his No. 2 strength. There's a lot of choices, if you know what you're doing out there."

Besides the right choices, a catcher needs composure, intelligence, and maturity. He also uses an unspoken instinct that Colborn recognizes from his own days on the mound. And as Tracy puts it, Paulino has an innate feel for the moment at hand.

"We've seen the feel that he has for calling a game," Tracy said. "The feel that he has for the adjustments that hitters are making in midstream during the course of a sequence of pitches in a specific at-bat, the adjustments he makes right in the middle of a sequence, not waiting for two or three at-bats to take place where there's significant damage that's been done."

In evaluating his own strengths, Paulino cites his stablity.

"When it's a tight situation later in the game, I don't get nervous," Paulino said. "I treat it like any other situation."

On top of everything he brings to the club defensively, Paulino entered Tuesday's game leading all NL rookies with a .323 average.

"It's a luxury to have a rookie catcher at the Major League level hitting over .300," Tracy said. "Whatever he gives us offensively, we're thrilled. But what we're very interested in is his continuing to do the things he's doing for us defensively behind the plate in handling that group of pitchers on the staff. He's done an A-plus job of that thus far."

Randa ready: After an early workout Tuesday afternoon, Joe Randa was cleared for a rehab assignment. The 36-year-old veteran has been on the DL since May 2 with a bone contusion in his right foot.

"I feel like I'm ready to play," Randa said. "Everything's fine."

Randa will remain with the Bucs for a couple more days, then travel to Triple-A Indianapolis where he will start Sunday and Monday at third base and play nine innings each day.

"We're hopeful that everything is going to go well," Tracy said, "and if it does, he will be back with us by Tuesday when we open our homestand with St. Louis and a decision will be on our plate to be made at that time." Randa's replacement, Freddy Sanchez, is second in the National League with a .352 batting average.

Generation Next: Two Pirates offspring were drafted Tuesday, with the Rangers selecting Tracy's son, Chad, in the third round and first base coach John Shelby's son, John, going in the fifth round to the White Sox. Chad Tracy is a 20-year-old catcher from Pepperdine University, and John Shelby III, also 20, is a University of Kentucky second baseman who can also play shortstop and outfield.

"I'm very proud, because to be drafted in the third round after being a non-drafted high school senior, he's accomplished some things, I know that," Jim Tracy said. "I know what's inside the player, and I know what the passion and the desire to want to do in his life is, and so personally at No. 88 in the country, the Texas Rangers have gotten themselves a terrific kid. I think they've drafted themselves a big league player at No. 88."

The elder Shelby was just as pleased to see his namesake join the White Sox organization.

"He's very excited," the coach said. "I knew he would get it done. Fifth round is good. I count it as a blessing. He's a good kid. They not only got a good ballplayer, they got a good kid."

On deck: Lefty Oliver Perez (2-6, 5.98 ERA) gets the call in the series finale, squaring off against former Buccaneer right-hander Josh Fogg (3-4, 4.43 ERA).

Owen Perkins is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.