No need for speed: Stults boasts varied repertoire
With mid-level fastball, Padres lefty has developed challenging four-pitch mix
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Eric Stults doesn't have fastball envy. Instead, the Padres left-hander has something of greater importance -- a guaranteed spot in the starting rotation.
Stults, 33, used a four-pitch mix Tuesday to keep the D-backs off balance -- doing so with a fastball that on the rarest of occasions can touch 90 mph -- as he relies more on pinpoint command and a dizzying collection of offspeed pitches.
"A guy like me, who is more finesse, has to adapt and find ways to get guys out other than velocity," Stults said. "If you can do that, hopefully there will be a team that will allow you to do that.
"It still comes down to getting outs."
Stults did plenty of that last season after he was claimed off waivers from the White Sox in May after the Padres' starting rotation was ravaged by injuries. Of all the pitchers who had live auditions, Stults and Jason Marquis clearly rated as the best of the bunch.
Stults had a 2.92 ERA in 92 1/3 innings with San Diego last season. The Padres used him in long relief on occasion, though his best work came during his 14 starts in which he attacked the strike zone with anything but a dominant fastball.
Instead, Stults relies on a mid-80s fastball, a changeup, slider and a curveball that has come to him late in his career.
"I still think that's the way the game is playing ... keeping guys off balance and changing speeds. If you got a guy throwing 100 mph, the second time around, hitters are good and they'll adjust to that," Stults said.
"For me, there has to be a change in velocity. It's throwing four pitches and having them wonder, 'Which pitch is he going to throw next?'"
This wasn't always the case for Stults, who made his Major League debut in 2006 with the Dodgers. He appeared in parts of four seasons with Los Angeles, spent 2010 pitching for Hiroshima in Japan and then latched on with the Rockies in 2011. Stults signed with the White Sox before last season but was later designated for assignment.
Enter the Padres, who were in desperate need of pitching. Enter Stults, who learned long before he got to San Diego just how valuable making adjustments on the fly is.
"Early on in my career, I was more of a two-pitch guy: fastball, changeup," Stults said. "I got to the big leagues on two pitches. But the older I got, the more I realized that if I was going to have success in the big leagues, that I needed to develop a third and fourth pitch.
"I always had a fastball, changeup and slider, but the curveball wasn't a pitch I started throwing until the last couple of years. But now, being able to mix in a fourth pitch for strikes has helped me and kept me going."
According to FanGraphs, Stults throws his curveball 10.2 percent of the time, a figure that's likely to jump in 2013. So who said you can't teach an old pitcher new tricks -- or, at least, a new pitch?
"Adjustments in this game are huge," Stults said. "If you're not making adjustments, at least for me, bad things happen. If you're not trying to get better and trying to work on your craft ... someone behind you is."
In many ways, Stults is a lot like Bud Black, his manager. Black, a left-hander who pitched 15 seasons in the big leagues, didn't throw exceptionally hard and had a career 4.6 strikeout/nine innings ratio. He "paints," using command and a four-pitch mix, instead of velocity, to get outs.
"I think we like the strikeout and we like the homer," Black said. "They're hard to do, that's why we like them. Not many bad things happen when there's a strikeout when you're on defense, right? ... The line drive into the catcher's glove? I like that one.
"But Eric goes about it his way. I like his demeanor, his thought process, and he pitched very well for us in the 90-plus innings. You don't have to strike guys out if you give up fewer hits than innings pitched."
Which is something Black can not only relate to, but value.
"I appreciate it," Black said of Stults' game.