Stults takes inside track to spot in rotation

Black endorses left-hander after solid showing against Rangers

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Maybe the Padres don't have as many openings in the rotation as previously thought.

San Diego manager Bud Black said Monday that while left-hander Eric Stults might not be guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation, he has an advantage over the rest of the competition based on his showing last season.

"Last year was pretty solid," Black said. "He showed what he's capable of."

On Monday, Stults allowed two runs on two hits with one walk in three innings of a 5-4 loss to the Rangers in Surprise. It was an improvement on his last start, when he allowed four runs on four hits in the first inning against the A's.

"The second time out, it was a little easier. The first time facing hitters, game speed, I was maybe a little too amped up," Stults said.

"Today was better. I was able to throw all four pitches for strikes. I had command of all my pitches."

The Padres got a long look at Stults last season when he was claimed off waivers from the White Sox on May 17. He went 8-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 18 games, including 14 starts, and 92 1/3 innings. Black said Monday that he puts a lot of stock in that performance over a good sample size of innings.

Despite making a favorable impression on the organization last season, Stults is not taking anything for granted.

"I've always been a guy fighting for a spot. That's still my mindset," Stults said.

The Padres could open the season with Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis and Stults in the rotation. There are plenty of candidates in big league camp for the last spot: Casey Kelly, Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin, Sean O'Sullivan, Anthony Bass, Freddy Garcia and Donn Roach.