PEORIA, Ariz. -- Maybe the Padres don't have as many openings in the rotation as previously thought.

San Diego manager Bud Black said Monday that while left-hander Eric Stults might not be guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation, he has an advantage over the rest of the competition based on his showing last season.

"Last year was pretty solid," Black said. "He showed what he's capable of."

On Monday, Stults allowed two runs on two hits with one walk in three innings of a 5-4 loss to the Rangers in Surprise. It was an improvement on his last start, when he allowed four runs on four hits in the first inning against the A's.

"The second time out, it was a little easier. The first time facing hitters, game speed, I was maybe a little too amped up," Stults said.

"Today was better. I was able to throw all four pitches for strikes. I had command of all my pitches."

The Padres got a long look at Stults last season when he was claimed off waivers from the White Sox on May 17. He went 8-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 18 games, including 14 starts, and 92 1/3 innings. Black said Monday that he puts a lot of stock in that performance over a good sample size of innings.

Despite making a favorable impression on the organization last season, Stults is not taking anything for granted.

"I've always been a guy fighting for a spot. That's still my mindset," Stults said.

The Padres could open the season with Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis and Stults in the rotation. There are plenty of candidates in big league camp for the last spot: Casey Kelly, Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin, Sean O'Sullivan, Anthony Bass, Freddy Garcia and Donn Roach.

Padres hitters are looking to strike early, often

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On more than one occasions Sunday, White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy made mention of the Padres being aggressive early in the count against him.

Will Venable singled on the second pitch he saw. Chase Headley had an RBI double on the first pitch he saw. Yonder Alonso flew out to left field, also on the first pitch. Finally, Chris Denorfia fueled a two-run second inning with a first-pitch single.

This wasn't all happenstance, Padres manager Bud Black said.

"Against Peavy, he's coming at you," Black said. "You've got to take some good rips. You don't want to see that slider."

From a philosophical standpoint, though, what occurred Sunday -- when the Padres got to Peavy early in the count for three runs over the first two innings -- is what the team's hitters are mentally carrying into the box with them each at-bat.

"We have some guys who have come of age and are realizing you've got to be ready to hit against Major League pitching. You can't get behind Major League pitchers. I think we saw a little more of that in the second half of last year," Black said.

"[Carlos] Quentin brought in a dimension of getting ready to hit the fastball early in the count. I think [hitting coaches Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell] have preached that."

For Headley, who was raised on the patient approach of the Sandy Alderson era in San Diego, he said he's still trying to be better about being aggressive from the moment he steps into the box instead of working the count.

"My goal is to be ready to hit when I get a good pitch to hit, whether that be the first pitch or the 10th pitch," he said. "I think early in the season last year, I gave away some at-bats early in the count when I let it go by. Who knows what would have happened had I swung at it.

"But as a whole, we want to be aggressive as a team."

Padres re-assign Sullivan to Minor League camp

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres have re-assigned Minor League pitcher Jerry Sullivan to Minor League camp, though it's done little to thin a bustling clubhouse.

Even with that transaction, the Padres still have 66 players in big league camp.

Manager Bud Black isn't sure when the first round of moves will come, as a longer Spring Training due to the World Baseball Classic means the team will keep players around longer, before moving them to the Minor League side.

"We really don't have any hard dates," Black said Tuesday. "But there does come a time when you have to start thinning the room. There's a component of when guys need to go down and get innings. But we are still a ways away."

Black said that, first of all, there has to be a place for players to go. Minor League pitchers and catchers had their first workout Sunday. Position players don't report until March 8 with the first full workout set for March 10.

Sullivan, who had a good second half in 2012 with Class A Lake Elsinore, has been slowed in camp by a sore right shoulder. He'll be able to continue to get treatment on the Minor League side.

Short hops

• The Padres played a 'B' game on Monday morning in Peoria, losing to the White Sox, 4-1. Catcher Austin Hedges had two hits and shortstop Jeudy Valdez knocked in the only run with a home run. Pitcher Miles Mikolas struck out two in two scoreless innings. Jose De Paula also fared well, striking out two in two shutouts innings. Johnny Barbato allowed three earned runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings.