Promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque to start in place of the injured Hiroki Kuroda, Stults allowed one run over 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and Orlando Hudson homered and drove in three runs in the Dodgers' 11-2 blowout of the Diamondbacks.
"Stults was great," said manager Joe Torre, whose rotation now includes three starters (Stults, Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald) with a combined 10 Major League victories.
"We saw him last year come up and pitch against Cincinnati and throw a lot of strikes and then [use] the changeup when he was behind in the count. I thought he worked fast, which was a benefit for him. And tonight he was aggressive, especially when behind in the count."
Stults, in parts of four Major League seasons, is now 5-7 lifetime with a 4.66 ERA. But he has a habit of coming up big in fill-in situations like this one.
In his first Major League start, Stults beat the Mets at Shea Stadium during the 2006 pennant race while allowing one run on two hits over six innings. Promoted midseason in '07, he pitched into the sixth inning of a no-decision against the Mets in his first start and won his next start. In his first start last year after a mid-June callup, Stults allowed one earned run in six innings and came back in six days with a complete-game shutout of the White Sox.
"It does seem like I've pitched well my first outing every year," Stults said. "I guess I feel I don't have anything to prove, and I just go out and I'm ready mentally and physically."
This one was different. Stults was coming off a Spring Training in which he lost the fifth-starter competition to James McDonald, who didn't get out of the third inning in Friday night's loss.
But his biggest loss came two weeks before camp opened, when his mother and biggest fan, Kathy, died of cancer.
"She had breast cancer three years ago, and it was in remission for a year, but it came back in the liver and it was already in the late stages when they found it," Stults said. "There was nothing they could do. We found out, and in a month, she was gone.
"I mean, it was tough. Early on, it was really hard to focus on baseball. When it's the death of your mom, you realize what's important. It was hard on my heart. But my livelihood was baseball, and it was time to move on. She enjoyed watching me, and she was watching me tonight."
What was originally projected to be a matchup of Opening Day starters Kuroda and Brandon Webb (who was scratched with shoulder bursitis) turned into a duel between relative unknowns in Stults and Yusmeiro Petit, who retired the first 10 Dodgers.
Stults was nearly as good. Over the first five innings, he held Arizona scoreless on two hits without allowing a runner to move beyond first base. But a one-out double in the sixth by Chris Young was followed by Stephen Drew's RBI single.
Stults, who hadn't thrown more than 65 pitches in a spring outing, was removed at 95 pitches, having sufficiently rested an already-weary bullpen. He was replaced by rookie Ronald Belisario, who put down the rally and struck out three over 1 2/3 innings.
"I knew that was the inning we'd get him, but I was trying to buy as many outs as I could," Torre said. "I didn't want to use everybody in the bullpen."
Stults has been in the organization since 2002, but he's never made an Opening Day roster.
"There are still things I need to work on as a pitcher," Stults said. "I feel it's a privilege they still give me the opportunity. They could have moved on to someone else. I'm really grateful. It's disappointing when you come up and do well and get sent back down [he was demoted to make room for Kershaw last summer]. It's frustrating, but you can't dwell on it."
Meanwhile, Stults had some offense with which to work, even though Manny Ramirez didn't get a hit. Hudson spoiled former D-backs teammate Petit's bid for perfection with a one-out home run to right field in the fourth inning, his first as a Dodger. Hudson added a two-run double in the eighth. In total, seven Dodgers drove in runs in the rout.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.