Rookie arm leads LA to split with Mets

Rookie arm leads LA to split with Mets

NEW YORK -- That experience stuff must be way overrated.

The Dodgers lost to the Mets this weekend with a future Hall of Famer and the league's winningest starter on the mound. But they beat the Mets twice with rookies making their first Major League starts.

Eric Stults on Sunday just about duplicated the six scoreless innings Friday night by Hong-Chih Kuo. Stults, who came into the game with three Major League innings and a Tommy John elbow operation on his resume, didn't allow a run until Jose Reyes' sixth-inning homer, but the Dodgers' 9-1 victory was already sealed by then.

Stults and Kuo were in the Triple-A Las Vegas starting rotation as recently as two weeks ago, the same rotation that produced Chad Billingsley. It's enough to make you wonder if Las Vegas pitching coach Kenny Howell was hiding any other phenoms-in-the-making down there.

"There's no way we could ask for any better," said manager Grady Little.

In an odd twist of fate, Stults figures to be rewarded for his clutch day at Shea with a demotion to the back end of the bullpen, as Billingsley is healed from a strained oblique muscle and expects to return to the rotation Saturday against the San Diego Padres. Little, who said Kuo will start again Thursday in Chicago, was non-committal about Stults.

For Stults, who also had his first Major League hit, it was a blast while it lasted.

"I'm totally prepared to not start for the rest of the season," said Stults, a September callup who went 10-11 at Triple-A Las Vegas this year. "I was excited, this being the first big-league start, but I tried to stay calm and be aggressive and get ahead in the count. I don't know what the plan is from here on out, but I'll be ready for whatever."

The Dodgers gave the 26-year-old left-hander a huge lead behind four RBIs from Nomar Garciaparra (three-run homer), three RBIs from Kenny Lofton (bases-loaded triple) and three more hits from torrid Rafael Furcal.

Stults knew just what to do with the bonanza. He allowed a one-out single in the first inning by Endy Chavez, Reyes' sixth-inning shot and two walks to go with three strikeouts. He was lifted after 86 pitches and six innings -- as was pretty much the entire starting lineup -- having allowed two hits in his first Major League victory.

"With four runs in the third inning, I was able to calm down, and I realized all I had to do was throw strikes and it made it a lot easier," Stults said. "I tried to stay locked into the game and not get caught up in the moment."

General manager Ned Colletti, who has spent much of his tenure acquiring proven products, rejected the suggestion of turning over his rotation to a cast of beginners based on the way this series went. The Dodgers came into this showdown series against the best team in the league and won when they least expected to.


"With four runs in the third inning, I was able to calm down, and I realized all I had to do was throw strikes and it made it a lot easier. I tried to stay locked into the game and not get caught up in the moment."
-- Eric Stults

It's been 46 years since the Dodgers had two pitchers make their first Major League start in the same series (Jim Golden and Phil Ortega vs. Chicago at the Coliseum). But that was the last series of a season in which the Dodgers finished in fourth place.

Kuo and Stults started for a first-place team against a first-place team, sandwiched around a tough one-run loss Saturday. Yet, Stults did what so many of the Dodgers rookies have done this year -- perform unlike a rookie.

"This says a lot about our Minor League system and the job [scouting director] Terry Collins and his group have done," said Colletti. "[The Dodgers' rookies] have come up here with the right approach, and you don't always see that with kids. They've understood their place with the veterans, but haven't been timid either.

"I think Russell Martin and Andre Ethier -- and Jonathan Broxton, even though he was here last year -- they set the tone with early success and made it easier for all those who followed to gain confidence, and they've just been respectable from the get-go."

Stults conceded that things could have been different if the first-inning single he allowed to Chavez hadn't been followed by former Dodger Paul Lo Duca's inning-ending double-play grounder to third baseman Wilson Betemit.

"I had butterflies, obviously, because that's a great team with the best record and it was in the back of my mind, but I calmed down and realized it's just another game," said Stults. "That double play kind of settled me down, and I regained my composure and settled in."

Lofton's bases-clearing triple off Steve Trachsel provided a third-inning lead. Garciaparra had the blast, his second in three games, but deferred credit to the center fielder, who is now hitting .305.

"We had the opportunity, and Kenny's hit was huge right there," said Garciaparra. "And Stults came out and put them down, and we got right back in the dugout."

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