Though Paulino may not need to catch the knuckleballer anytime soon -- that's Josh Thole's job -- he should play regularly when the Mets oppose a left-handed starter. His first test will come Sunday against Phillies lefty Cliff Lee -- precisely the type of challenge the Mets envisioned when they signed Paulino, a career .338 hitter facing lefties, to a $1.3 million contract last winter.
First, however, Paulino must grow accustomed to his new pitching staff.
Due to a visa issue in February and March, Paulino was forced to report to spring camp nearly a month late, losing valuable development time in the process. Upon his long-anticipated arrival, a routine physical then revealed notably low levels of hemoglobin in his blood stream. The Mets placed him on a treatment program, then on the disabled list.
"I was feeling fine the whole Spring Training," Paulino said. "I didn't think there was anything wrong with me."
But there was enough wrong with him to concern Mets officials, who proceeded cautiously with Paulino's recovery. What they did not expect was to watch Paulino then tweak a muscle in his midsection during rehab, setting the catcher's return back yet another week.
So it was a long road that led Paulino to his locker at Citizens Bank Park, grinning Friday and saying, "I finally made it."
But for Paulino, the learning curve has only just begun. Dickey is doing his part to help, teaching Paulino the intricacies of the knuckleball while providing him with a crash course on his own tendencies. But catching can be instinctual, meaning Paulino must continue to practice in order to learn his new staff.
That process begins now.
"You can do all the talking you want," manager Terry Collins said. "You've got to catch them, certainly, to get an idea. But he's played long enough, he'll be able to adapt fast."