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12/21/09 1:00 PM EST

Paulino working hard for rotation spot

Astros power-armed righty embracing offseason regimen

HOUSTON -- Near the end of last season, Astros pitcher Felipe Paulino cornered general manager Ed Wade in the trainer's room at Minute Maid Park and told his boss he was going to do everything he could during the offseason to get better.

That was terrific news for Wade, who issued somewhat of an ultimatum to Paulino heading into Spring Training in 2009 when he said it was "high noon" for the barrel-chested right-hander with a power arm. Paulino told Wade he was going to work hard to get in better shape and put himself in the best position possible to win a spot in the 2010 rotation.

"I told Felipe that I couldn't ask for anything more, and this was an opportunity he shouldn't pass up," Wade said. "I told him he has a chance to take the ball every fifth day and be a dominant big league pitcher. I commend him for seeking me out and wanting to talk to me."

And Paulino followed through. From the beginning of November to the middle of December, he arrived to Minute Maid Park at dawn four days a week for two-hour workouts with some teammates under the direction of Astros strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman.

Paulino teamed with catcher Humberto Quintero and was one of about 10 players who participated in the conditioning workouts, including Hunter Pence, J.R. Towles, Michael Bourn, Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Bourgeois and Minor Leaguers Koby Clement and Ross Seaton.

"All the feedback I've gotten has been very positive."
-- Astros GM Ed Wade,
on Felipe Paulino's offseason

The workouts began with solo movement to get the players ready for three circuits of weight training with seven minutes of metabolic conditioning and 150 core-type movements in between each one. The players then have finisher exercises they have to do before they can leave.

"We kick their fannies by the time they walk out the door, but everyone has gotten better and accomplished more," Coleman said.

The players burned muscle mass, increased flexibility and work capacity and modified their diets to end up with a negative caloric balance. The goal was to lose 1 to 1 1/2 pounds a week. Coleman gave each player a target weight to reach by Dec. 17, and most had reached it by the first week of December.

"It's a good group with good camaraderie, and they have pushed each other," Coleman said.

Paulino has spent this offseason living near Quintero in the Houston suburb of Pearland. Coleman made sure the wives of both players worked together to make sure they were eating the right kinds of food. Quintero spent the winter in Houston to work with Coleman two years ago and lost 24 pounds.

"He changed his diet and his habits, and it worked," Coleman said. "Typically we don't have many guys that need to lose weight, but Paulino's had weight issues ever since we signed him."

Paulino, 25, made his Major League debut late in the 2007 season and missed almost all of 2008 because of a pinched nerve in his right arm. He appeared in seven games at Triple-A Round Rock last season but spent most of the season in Houston, going 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA in 23 games (17 starts).

Paulino has an electric fastball that has been clocked at 100 mph, and the Astros don't want to give up on that kind of arm. He will battle for a spot in the starting rotation in Spring Training and may report to the Grapefruit League in the shape of his life.

The 6-foot-3 Paulino was listed at 180 pounds in the Astros' 2009 media guide and was listed at a more accurate 271 pounds in the postseason wrap-up guide.

"So far he's followed through on what he said he was going to do," Wade said of Paulino. "Humberto's wife has worked with Felipe's wife to improve his diet. They go shopping together to try to make sure he's eating the right foods. All the feedback I've gotten has been very positive."

Paulino has headed back to Venezuela for the holiday break, but Coleman expects him back at Minute Mark Park on Jan. 4. And Coleman fully understands that eating habits during the holidays won't exactly result in a good calorie count.

"Everybody's goal is to break even [on weight] between now and Jan. 4," Coleman said. "We know that they're going to do stuff, but as long as they do it in moderation."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.