"Physically, I felt good. I pitched on three days' rest, but it felt like a normal start," Stults said. "I think I got a little tired in the sixth inning and I just tried to battle through that inning, get six innings for us, but overall ... I didn't feel like I'd been overworked."
Stults didn't make it through that sixth inning, leaving with one out and runners on first and second, but Brad Brach stopped the rally with two quick outs.
"Those were two critical at-bats, no doubt, with guys on base," Padres manager Bud Black said.
From there, it was smooth sailing, as Dale Thayer worked a perfect seventh, Luke Gregerson a perfect eighth and Huston Street a perfect ninth to nail down the win -- the type of performance the Padres have come to expect from their relief corps.
"In my mind, we have one of the best bullpens in Major League Baseball," Stults said. "Anytime you, as a starter, leave the game with a lead, with our 'pen, I feel pretty confident we're going to win."
Quite simply, he should. Brach has allowed just two of 30 inherited runners to score this season, Thayer hasn't allowed a run this month and Gregerson and Street are quickly and quietly establishing themselves as one of the
best back ends in baseball.
Gregerson extended his scoreless streak to 14 1/3 innings, a span that dates back to July 4. Street has been even better. He recorded his 19th save in 19 opportunities to nail down the win and has not allowed a run in 19 1/3 innings since June 20.
But what Black saw Monday was the resilience of a pitching staff that, thanks to injuries and occasional inconsistent starting pitching, has had to learn to bounce back.
"He pitched three out of four in Cincinnati. ... We probably popped [Stults] back here a little sooner from his rehab than we wanted to because we needed him, but Stults did a great job," Black said. "[Stults and the bullpen] are getting stretched. ... But those guys come to pitch. There's a resiliency, there's a mindset that you come to pitch."
They had to, as the Padres' offense put together just one scoring rally. That came in the fourth inning, when Carlos Quentin doubled and was singled home by Yonder Alonso, who is hitting .378 in his last 11 games. Alonso was pushed to third by a Cameron Maybin double and scored on a single by Everth Cabrera.
Cubs starter Travis Wood gave up just one other hit in six innings, striking out three and walking three.
"He got the ball up to Maybin, which was a bad thing. It was a hanging changeup. Then Cabrera hit a cue ball right off the end of the bat with the infield in and drove in the other run," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Quentin is a good hitter, he's going to kill left-handers, and [Wood] made a good pitch down and away and [Quentin] is good enough to hit it off the wall in right field. Other than that, he pitched a heck of a game. It could've been one run."
Even if it had been, it wouldn't have been enough, as Rodriguez guided the pitching staff through a scoreless nine innings. After homering in his first Major League at-bat, Rodriguez could do little more than laugh after catching a shutout in his second big league game.
"It was awesome. I caught it, but my pitchers threw it. Their command was amazing today," Rodriguez said. "They were easy to catch, all I had to do was put a finger down and they were making unbelievable pitches the entire game. ... I'm just out there to get them through those nine innings and get us a win."