Finally, an Opening Day experience for Stults

The 33-year-old Middlebury resident is slated to start Thursday for Padres.

Posted on March 29, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 29, 2013 at 12:35 p.m.

Eric Stults made his Major League Baseball debut in 2006.

The left-hander has pitched in 61 big league games, 39 as a starter.

The Middlebury resident has logged 256 mound innings.

But at 33, the former Bethel College standout has never been on an MLB team’s Opening Day roster.

Until now.

Stults is scheduled to be the starting pitcher in the San Diego Padres’ third game of the season at 1:10 p.m. Thursday, April 4, against the New York Mets in New York, behind right-hander Edinson Volquez Monday and left-handed Indiana native Clayton Richard Wednesday, April 3.

San Diego manager Bud Black has tabbed right-hander Jason Marquis as his fourth starter and is still trying to decide on No. 5, likely right-handers Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross.

“I’m excited,” said Stults via phone from spring training in Peoria, Ariz. “I’ve worked to have the opportunity to do that.”

Stults landed with the Padres off the waiver wire in May 2012 after beginning the season in the minor leagues with the Chicago White Sox organization and then being released after eight appearances with the big-league White Sox.

With San Diego, Stults made 15 starts and went 8-3 with a 2.92 earned run average. He also strained his left latissimus dorsi and spent some time on the disabled list.

Stults said his strong 2012 performance in a San Diego uniform and the club’s desire to keep together the core of the squad that went 42-33 after the All-Star break made a big impact in his getting a chance to begin the season in the Padres rotation to begin 2013.

So this spring, Stults came to Arizona to show he still has it.

Based on manager Bud Black’s decision to put the southpaw in his rotation: Mission accomplished.

“I proved to (the Padres) that No. 1, I was healthy, and No. 2, my stuff is still there from last year,” said Stults, who is not noted for his blazing speed but an ability to mix his breaking and off-speed pitches to keep batters off-balance.

The fact that Stults was scheduled to make his first start in New York is not lost on him. It was at the old Shea Stadium as a Los Angeles Dodger that Stults made his first MLB start. It came in the heat of the pennant race and he hurled six innings of one-run, two-hit ball and helped give L.A. a victory.

“I will always remember playing the Mets in Shea,” said Stults. “Even after I’m done playing, I’m sure it will always pop up in my mind. I believe the Mets had the best record in baseball and we were still in contention.”

Heading into a final spring training tune-up Friday, March 29, at Texas, Stults had a 2013 spring record of 2-2 with a 6.63 earned run average. In his previous start against Arizona, he got up to 82 pitches (55 being strikes). The goal in his last few starts was to get in six innings in 90 pitches. If he didn’t reach that number in the game, he would finish up a few more high-intensity tosses in the bullpen.

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