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09/25/08 6:27 PM ET

Paulino returns to Bucs' starting lineup

Club still deciding on backstop's role for '09 season

MILWAUKEE -- For the first time since May 31 and just the 26th time this season, Ronny Paulino found himself penciled in as the Pirates' starting catcher.

There's no reason to read too far into Paulino's insertion into the lineup on Thursday, though. Ryan Doumit was given the day off after making five straight starts. Manager John Russell already saw recently-acquired young catcher Robinzon Diaz make a start this month and has watched Raul Chavez serve as Doumit's backup for most of the season.

As a result, this will be the first significant look that the Pirates will have of Paulino since the 27-year-old backstop returned to Pittsburgh as one of 10 players called up in September. Paulino, who had been the team's starting catcher in each of the past two seasons, was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis back on June 5.

"Obviously, [we're] not expecting four hits because he hasn't hit in a while," Russell said. "Just give him an opportunity to get back there."

Since rejoining the team, Paulino has gone 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter. He stayed in one game to catch the final two innings.

It's still somewhat murky as to where or if the organization sees Paulino fitting into its long-term plans as a capable backup to Doumit. Paulino will be playing winter ball this offseason after a one-year hiatus, and how he prepares physically before Spring Training could also go a long way in answering that question.

"The emphasis was on the energy level and conditioning," Russell said of the goals laid out for Paulino when he was sent down. "He's a very strong guy. The big thing with Ronny is the reactions, the energy, getting his body into position where he can be a little more agile, a little more flexible."

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