Is Stults out of the Running? We'll See

   VERO BEACH, Fla- Having had his get-acquainted year in 2006, manager Grady Little is moving more assuredly the second time around. He's already settled on most his batting order and has four-fifths of his starting rotation set. He's also narrowed the field for the last starting slot.

   Little has said that a foursome of Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko will vie for the fifth starter's role. For the others it would seem the race is over before they got to the starting line.

  Lefthander Eric Stults is one of those who have apparently been left out. When informed of Little's statement, he commented, "Really? I hadn't heard that. Well, we'll see."

If he's being overlooked, it's not surprising for it's become a way of professional life for Stults. Nothing personal, you see, it's just that's what's likely to happen to somebody whose "out" pitch is a changeup.

"Absolutely," says Stults. "I'll throw it anytime in the count. I've thrown it 3-0 before."

  His fast ball arrives at the plate at a rather pedestrian 88-90 mph  so Stults won't wow you with his stuff. What he does is get outs- regularly. But the rub is he's not all that impressive doing it. 

  He arrived in tiny Bethel College in Indiana as a basketball player. By his senior year, he was doing so well on the diamond that he was concentrating on baseball. His record was impressive but a lot of scouts were saying, "Nice but he's pitching in a no-so-tough league and getting them out with junk." So, the Dodgers were able to draft him down in the 15th round.

  The more this guy pitches though, the more he's appreciated. He began his pro career in 2002 in rookie ball. Before the year was over he was in AA. The next year, however, elbow problems occurred so Tommy John surgery was the result.

  When he came back in 2004, he had to begin all over again in low A. As he got stronger, he worked his way up so that by the end of 2005 he was pitching in AAA.

  Last year he was on the Las Vegas staff but still wasn't considered a starter. So, he not only worked his way in he wound up the team's leading winner with 10 victories. Okay so he lost 11 but this was pitching for a team that dropped 77 games in all. And it was in Vegas which is as unkind to pitchers as Cruela DeVil is to dalmatians.

  "If you can pitch in Vegas, you can pitch anywhere," Stults maintains. 

  Called up to the big leagues, he made his biggest statement on Sept. 10 in New York when he started against the vaunted Mets, held them to two hits and one unearned run over six innings to pick up a vital victory for the Dodgers. That night he showed all that he could throw winning ball at the highest level.

"That game was special to me," he allows. "Especially since most of my family was on hand to see it.",

  He's very much a family man so it's not at all surprising that his wife and baby daughter are here to share in spring training with him. < br>
   Yet, once more, he has to prove himself. Hey, that's been a way of life for the lefthander, now 27 years old. His record shows that he's quite capable of doing just that.