I am sure that Eric Stults will admit that he struggled a bit in the top of the first inning this evening.
Gerardo Parra hit a leadoff double and eventually came around to score later in the frame on a sacrifice fly. Stults threw 25 pitches in that inning alone, and it appeared as if the veteran left-hander might be in for a rocky outing.
However, the 33 year-old found his groove though after his opening inning struggles and pitched arguably his best game of the season for the Friars.
Over the course of the next eight frames, Stults was pitching to contact and had total command of the strike zone. Best of all though, his lollipop breaking-ball was on point, especially for first-pitch strikes, and the veteran’s ability to change speeds and befuddle Arizona’s hitters was just a treat to watch. Stults did such a terrific job pitching to contact that he was able to record 10 or less pitches in five of the final eight innings, including a 10-pitch ninth!
While Eric did not overpower the Diamondbacks (two strikeouts) with his stuff, he did a masterful job of making their entire lineup uneasy at the plate. Heck, Stults even fielded his position like a “Gold Glover” tonight and recorded seven outs on balls in play. Best of all though, the Padres needed the veteran to bring his “A Game,” especially since Trevor Cahill pitched 5.2 shutout innings for Arizona as well.
Although the Friars struggled to get runners on and move them in the early going, their lineup managed to take full advantage of the Diamondbacks’ only pitching and defensive miscues in the bottom of the sixth. Cahill, whose sinker was lethal through the first five frames, loaded the bases in an odd fashion before he could record an out.
Alexi Amarista, who led off the inning, drew a huge walk and exhibited terrific plate discipline in his seven-pitch at-bat. Chase Headley then “took one for the team” after a bad pitch by Cahill hit him in the leg. Finally, Martin Prado failed to handle a dribbler down the third base line off of the bat of Carlos Quentin.
To his credit, Arizona’s starter bore down and whiffed Kyle Blanks and Will Venable to set Logan Forsythe up for the biggest at-bat of the game. Earlier today, I actually discussed how the Padres were lucky to have Forsythe back in the lineup for the injured Jedd Gyorko and boy did “Lo-Fo” come through when his team needed him tonight.
Forsythe smacked a Cahill sinker into the left-center field gap on a full-count to put the Friars ahead 2-1!
Although the Padres failed to record a hit after the second baseman’s important single, the damage was done and one run was enough of a cushion for Stults to work with over the final three innings.
The win inches San Diego one game closer to the .500 mark (33-34), and brings them one game closer to the N.L. West-leading Diamondbacks. I for one am so excited to see the Padres playing competitive baseball against some of the league’s best teams, and it is always fun to see the team emerge victorious is an entertaining pitcher’s duel as well.
The Friars will play game two of their series with the Diamondbacks tomorrow night at 7:10, so let’s all hope that Jason Marquis can pitch as well as Stults did tonight!