Hull 's Not Exotic, Just Reliable

VERO BEACH, Fla.- When it comes to pitching, some just have to go the Ben & Jerry's route. You know, exotic flavors like "One Sweet Whirled" or "Wavy Gravy". Eric Hull, though, is strictly vanilla. But you know what? When those Flavors of the Month are discarded, vanilla will always be around.

And so is Eric Hull, a guy that was added as an undrafted afterthought to fill out a roster in 2002. One without any particular pitch that makes scouts, managers or coaches drool. Just one who goes out and does his work so efficiently in an unremarkable fashion that finally somebody says, "Hey, not bad." and makes him an important part of the staff.

He can perform any task you require of a pitcher- starter, middle relief, set-up, closer. He's done them all in his five years as a pro. Why, in college. he was a shortstop but when they needed somone to save a game, he'd move over to the mound and without benefit of a bullpen session, shut the other team down.

Still, there's no mid-to- upper 90's blazing heater. His fast ball reaches 90 on his good days but it arrives in an area that maximizes it. So, while the strikeouts don't pile up, those ground balls that so often mean double plays do.

His collegiate pitching was at the University of Portland where he led his conference in saves but, as noted, didn't get drafted. Scout Hank Jones liked him enough so that when the Dodgers found themselves short of pitching at the lower level, he signed Hull.

Such additions are usually gone after a season or, maybe, two. Not Hull. That first year, he became a closer at Great Falls where he went out 11 times, didn't allow a run and saved five of those. By the end of the season, they were calling him "The Incredible Hull."

The next year at Vero Beach, he spent half the year in the bullpen, half as a starter. It's been that way as he moved upward until last season at Las Vegas when he started only two of the 44 games he appeared in. So capable was he that he was added to the Doidgers 40-man roster over the winter.

Now he's out on option, again with Vegas where they'll determine his role. It will probably be something out of the 'pen since they appeart to have a solid starting staff.

Who knows what a month will bring, though. Last year, almost all the five who began the season in the 51's rotation, were up in L.A. before too long.

The Las Vegas pitching coach, Kenny Howell, does know he can rely on Hull to take over where needed. Nothing fancy, you undersatnd. Just the smooth steadiness that you can rely on. Like vanilla, a flavor so dependable that even Ben and Jerry's serves it.

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