Dodgers rookie rocks Rockies
Stults strikes out nine in seven strong innings for first win of '07
LOS ANGELES -- Of all the reasons a player would rather pitch in the National League than the Pacific Coast League, Eric Stults has a beauty.
At least, that's the way he made it look Friday night. Promoted from Triple-A to replace Mark Hendrickson in the rotation, Stults pitched the Dodgers to a 6-4 win over the Rockies, a three-game win streak jumping Los Angeles over Colorado into third place.
In seven innings, the left-hander allowed two runs on two hits and struck out nine (fanning the side twice), lowering his Major League ERA to 3.91 this year. It was only his second Dodgers start of the season (limiting the Mets to two runs in 5 1/3 innings of a July 22 no-decision in the other) and fourth of his career.
He has a 1.93 ERA as a Major League starter. He had a 7.56 ERA as a Minor League starter at Las Vegas this year.
"Sometimes I think, 'Why can't I do down there what I do up here?'" Stults said. "There are players in that league that deserve to be up here, but mostly it comes down to not trusting my stuff down there. Tonight, I just had the mind-set that I would trust it, and after a couple innings, I got on a roll.
"It's really just been a year I'd like to forget down there. Maybe I focus better up here because I know so much is at stake. Maybe it's the 110-degree heat down there or the fact the ball flies. I've tried to figure it out."
Supported by a five-run second inning that included Jeff Kent's 16th home run and Juan Pierre's two-run single, Stults retired the last 13 batters he faced. The only walk he issued triggered Colorado's two-run third inning.
"Give Russ [catcher Russell Martin] a lot of credit," Stults said. "The plan was to pound inside with the fastball and changeup away. Russ had a good feeling."
Stults has beaten Colorado this year as often as he's beaten Colorado Springs. He has as many big-league wins this year as Jason Schmidt, and one more after the All-Star break than Randy Wolf.
Schmidt and Wolf are contributing factors in Stults' third season of exile in Las Vegas. Their free-agent signings blocked Stults' career path, despite his valuable contributions down the stretch last year. Now the wealthy free agents are laid up with shoulder injuries, while the 27-year-old Stults and his rebuilt elbow are making rookie headlines.
"The Dodgers were trying to do what was best for them," Stults said of the signings. "It's up to me to take advantage of every opportunity I get. I've got to pitch every game like it could be my last game."
Manager Grady Little said that won't be the case this time, as Stults is expected to start Friday night in New York against the Mets, the team he beat last year for his first Major League victory.
"This was one of the best pitched games we've had all year long," Little said Friday night. "He had command, he changed speeds, he threw strikes. He went after hitters."
Stults was drafted in the 15th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of Bethel College in Indiana, made 19 appearances at three levels of the Dodgers' Minor League system that year, then underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
Stults pitched only 10 games and 41 innings in 2003, then just 19 games and 31 2/3 innings in 2004. Finally fully healthy, he split the 2005 season between Double-A Jacksonville, where he had a 3.31 ERA, and Las Vegas, where he struggled with a 6.58 ERA. Back at Las Vegas in 2006, he went 10-11 with a 4.26 ERA.
Stults said the offensive support gave him early breathing room and he contributed, scoring one run and doubling to raise his career stats to 5-for-12. Kent and Pierre led the attack against Colorado starter Josh Fogg, but that wasn't a surprise. On their careers, Kent is 14-for-30 with six homers off Fogg, and Pierre, after going 2-for-4, is 15-for-31.
Pierre also recorded his 50th stolen base, the first Dodger to reach that mark since Eric Young had 51 in 1999. Pierre is hitting .377 during August.
Although Mark Sweeney's RBI single in the seventh inning cashed in Pierre's triple and extended the Dodgers' lead to 6-2, Scott Proctor turned the game into a save situation when he allowed a one-out, two-run homer to Garrett Atkins in the ninth inning.
On came Takashi Saito for the last two outs and his 32nd save, his third in as many games.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.