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SD@LAD: Stults plates run, second scores on error

LOS ANGELES -- When things were at their absolute worst earlier this season, when Padres pitcher Eric Stults couldn't find the results he wanted or anything closely resembling them, he said he never once felt sorry for himself.

This was, of course, a whole lot easier to do as a 34-year-old pitcher who has been around the block -- and even the world, pitching in Japan -- than, say if he were still a 24-year-old fighting through those kinds of monumental struggles.

"If I was younger, it might have affected me more," Stults said. "But I've seen guys go through ups and downs. I knew that as long as I wasn't physically hurt, I had to think things would turn around."

They have as of late and that was certainly the case on Wednesday, as Stults limited the Dodgers to one run over five innings and even knocked in a run as the Padres held on for a 4-1 victory in front of a crowd of 46,641 at Dodger Stadium.

Stults has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his four August starts, during which he's 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA. On a wider view, he's 4-5 over his last 11 starts with a 3.18 ERA, with seven of those starts coming away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park. The pitcher who struggled in the first half -- home runs, walks, bad luck, whatever you want to call it -- is now thriving.

"The last few years he's learned how to feed off our hitters' aggressiveness. He never gives in. He's not afraid to throw any pitch in any count," said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, who was a teammate of Stults coming through the Dodgers' Minor League system.

"I'm impressed with the way he controls his tempo. He used to be maximum effort every pitch. Now he's free and easy, so he can reach back when he wants to throw a fastball. He's pitching with a lot of confidence."

After his early-season struggles -- Stults was 2-8 with a 5.79 ERA in his first 14 starts and in jeopardy of losing his spot in the rotation -- he huddled with pitching coach Darren Balsley to work on mechanics. They tweaked his delivery in the windup, used a higher leg kick to create momentum. He picked up a tick of velocity. His secondary pitches became sharper. He quit allowing home runs and his command improved.

"Things are starting to turn his way," said Padres manager Bud Black.

On Wednesday, the Padres (59-66) gave him some early offense to work with, scoring three runs in the second inning. Alexi Amarista had an RBI single and Stults slapped an opposite-field single to left that allowed a run to score. A second run scored when Scott Van Slyke bobbled the ball.

Stults, who needed 93 pitches to cover five innings, allowed one run on four hits with one walk and five strikeouts. The bullpen trio of Blaine Boyer (two scoreless innings), Dale Thayer and rookie Kevin Quackenbush closed things out on the Dodgers (71-57) from there.

Quackenbush, filling in as closer for Joaquin Benoit, got his first career save, though he allowed a single to Van Slyke to start the ninth inning. He got the final out as Ellis lined a ball up the middle that banged off the heel of his right shoe, bouncing back to catcher Yasmani Grandal, who threw to first base for the out.

Benoit is nursing what Black is calling a "cranky" shoulder. The team is still considering placing Benoit on the disabled list but is holding out hope he won't need it.

As for Quackenbush, he reveled afterward in the moment -- but only after a deep exhale of relief.

"It's pretty exciting," he said. "It's a pretty awesome feeling. I was a little more nervous than I had been."

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