LOS ANGELES -- When Eric Stults showed up for Spring Training, there were $50 million worth of starting pitchers in the clubhouse and no room for him in any rotation west of Las Vegas.
But Joe Torre says there's room for Stults in Los Angeles now after the rookie left-hander threw a four-hit shutout as the Dodgers beat the White Sox, 5-0, on Wednesday night.
"From here to the All-Star break we have no days off, so if we have to have an extra starter, it won't hurt the guys who are nursing injuries," Torre said after watching Stults follow his strong seasonal debut in Cincinnati with Wednesday night's masterpiece, filling in for Brad Penny. "He'll get an opportunity."
Injuries to Penny and Hiroki Kuroda have given afterthoughts such as Stults and Chan Ho Park the kind of opportunities they really didn't get even in Spring Training. "He didn't pitch well enough in Spring Training," Torre said of Stults, who had a 4.66 ERA in 9 2/3 spring innings and only one start, in China against the Padres on March 16, charged with two runs in four innings. It wasn't enough to impress the boss and Stults was optioned out when the team returned to the United States. For the 28-year-old Stults -- whose $392,000 salary is $2,000 above the Majors' minimum wage -- nothing has come easy, so he wasn't crushed by that setback, only more determined to prove he belonged. When Penny and Kuroda went down almost simultaneously, Stults got the call because of a 3.59 ERA. He had a losing record at Triple-A (5-6), but with two wins has doubled his career total and now has the only winning record of any Dodgers starter, active or disabled. He never pitched longer than seven innings in any of 14 Minor League starts this year, hadn't had a complete game since 2006 at Las Vegas or a shutout since pitching for tiny Bethel (Ind.) College in 2002. Now in his ninth career start he has more shutouts as a Dodger than Penny and Chad Billingsley combined. Not a bad comeback story for a 15th-round Draft pick who underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2003. Stults has always had his path to the big leagues blocked, often by fellow left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo, who throws harder. Through brief callups, he came into this season with a 2-4 Major League mark that included his clutch win at Shea Stadium during the 2006 pennant race, but he regressed last year. "I wasn't frustrated with what happened in Spring Training. I knew the situation going in," said Stults, who watched the club pass him by and sign Kuroda during the offseason to a $35.3 million contract a year after signing Jason Schmidt. "They're the Dodgers. They're expected to win and have pressure to get guys they want in there. "For me, this is a turnaround year. I just wanted to prove I could pitch in the Major Leagues, that was my goal. Brad got hurt and I hope he gets healthy soon, but that opened the door for me." Stults had an early lead to work with as the Dodgers scored twice in the first against Gavin Floyd, with a big assist from a dropped fly ball by right fielder Jermaine Dye while Matt Kemp scored from first base running through Larry Bowa's stop sign. They added three runs in the fourth, two on a double by third baseman Blake DeWitt, his first RBIs in 19 games. Stults even added a sacrifice fly to score DeWitt. Meanwhile, after allowing a pair of singles (one off James Loney's glove) in the first inning, he was rolling through the White Sox. They had only one other runner reach second base and had only one hit after the fifth inning. Torre decided to take Stults out after he retired the side in order in the eighth inning. But while Stults was receiving congratulations from teammates, catcher Russell Martin lobbied Torre to let Stults continue. "How many times do you get the opportunity to throw a complete game?" asked Martin. "He wanted the shutout as much as I did," said Stults. Torre relented, a batter at a time. Stults took the mound and heaved a sigh. "I was taking the moment in. I looked at the crowd," he said. "It was something special, something I'll never forget." It almost didn't last more than that moment, as Stults went 3-0 to leadoff hitter Carlos Quentin, before battling back and getting him on a flyout. He got Dye on another fly and finished it off when Nick Swisher lined out to Juan Pierre in left field on the 116th pitch. The win moved the Dodgers to within three games of first-place Arizona. It was only the third time since May 17 that the Dodgers defeated a pitcher with a winning record.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.