It's time for Stults to seize his opportunity [Updated]
Not time to come close. Not time to be a possibility. Time to close the deal. To win the final spot in the Dodgers' rotation.
Or head out of town.
Stults is 30 years old and beginning his ninth season in the organization. That’s a long time to still be something of a prospect.
Stults is one of at least a half-dozen candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation. But he has one thing going for him none of the others do -- he is out of options.
Either Stults makes the final 25-man roster, or he can become a free agent.
"It's a year where something has to give for me,’’ Stults said. "I've been fortunate with opportunities in the past to gain some big league experience, but it's one of those things where this year they have to make a decision out of spring. I look at it as a win-win situation.’’
Stults will start in today's "B" Game against the White Sox, which makes him something of the early leader to make the rotation, or at least the first one to get an opportunity.
James McDonald, who won the fifth spot last spring, may prove to be Stults' biggest competition this year, but there is also Charlie Haeger, Carlos Monasterios, Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Josh Towers and Scott Elbert.
Stults has made occasional starts for the Dodgers, going 8-10 with a 4.84 ERA over the course of the last four seasons. He is the only pitcher in camp to have thrown a shutout in each of the last two years.
They know he can be very good. They also know he can be something else entirely.
"Eric knows he's certainly capable of pitching at this level," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "He's pitched playoff games for this ball club, he’s done well for us. The only thing is the consistency of it, and I think that’s what he’s trying to corral right now.
"We're certainly taking a long look at what he has to offer.… I think he's in a good place right now. Hopefully he can have a good spring."
The Dodgers want Stults to be more aggressive. Lacking overpowering stuff, he's gotten into trouble in the past pitching too carefully.
To hone his mental approach, he worked in the off-season on the phone with sports psychologist Dana Sinclair, a Canadian the team has on retainer.
"I don't know if it's a lack of consistency, or maybe sometimes just nibbling a little bit," Stults said. "I think that comes from just having the right mind-set and working on, 'OK, I’ve got to get ahead here and be confident I can throw strike one.'
"I think sometimes in the past when things kind of started to snowball or I get a couple of guys on, then I'd start to nibble. And I’ve really worked hard with Dana, our psychologist, this off-season to where I can stay in that attack mode. Be aggressive early in the count. When you get ahead, expand it."
If a more consistent, aggressive and confident Stults emerges, the Dodgers will probably have found their fifth starter. If he fails to step up, he could be headed to another team, or to Japan.
"But I feel like I'm in a situation where I want to be with the Dodgers, and they have to make a decision on me," he said.
-- Steve Dilbeck in Phoenix
Photo: Eric Stults delivers during a game against the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 9. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times
[FOR THE RECORD, 11:50 a.m.: The photo on an earlier version of this post showed Brent Leach, not Eric Stults.]