Many American ballplayers view a season or two in Japan as either a way to prolong fading careers or make money between major league gigs.

But Eric Stults said he learned a lot about pitching while playing for Hiroshima in 2010.

“Watching the way Japanese pitchers work, changed some of my views on how to pitch,” the Padres starter said recently.

“Japanese pitchers have no problems throwing their off-speed stuff when behind in the count. They know how to hit their spots. Over here, pitching is more of a power game. Over there, even the power pitchers change speeds and can hit spots with their secondary pitches.”

Stults brought the lessons he learned in Japan back to the United States in 2011. But it wasn’t until last season with the Padres that the left-hander fully brought his total repertoire into play.

“Eric Stults has a lot of weapons,” Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said recently. “An over-powering fastball isn’t one of them. But Stults gets more strikes looking and swinging off fastballs than anyone else on this staff.”

How can that be?

Because hitters seldom have an idea when the fastball might be coming.

And Stults also has the ability to change speeds on a fastball that ranges between 86 and 91 mph. When you mix in his other pitches, including a curve that Stults prides himself on being able to drop in the strike zone in the low 60s, Stults has an interesting arsenal.

“He’s a thinking man’s pitcher,” continued Balsley. “He’s the only guy on our staff who can change speeds on his fastball .”