The Padres stumbled into their own undoing in the series opener at Dodger Stadium, wasting 14 hits on their way to defeat. In the field and on the basepaths, they played less than crisply, a bad combination on a night their pitching also faltered.

Wednesday was different. Again, the Padres took an early, three-run lead. This time, they kept it.

A 4-1 win over the Dodgers was more in line with the norm since the All-Star break: improved at-bats, opportunistic offense, strong pitching backed by solid defense.

Eric Stults, a weak link in the rotation for much of the season, has quietly been the Padres’ best starter of late. For the fourth consecutive outing, the left-hander allowed two or fewer runs. He was pinch-hit for after five innings, having already thrown 93 pitches. Yet he’d done his job, keeping the Dodgers off balance.

“I enjoy pitching here, enjoyed my time with the Dodgers,” said Stults, who spent parts of four seasons with the Dodgers. “But I’m a Padre now. Coming back here, there’s a little extra pitching against your old team. You want to do well.”

Said Padres manager Bud Black: “He’s gotten back to better use and location of the fastball. … He’s a strike-thrower, and I think things are starting to turn his way.”

The Padres, meawhile, applied consistent pressure against Roberto Hernandez. The Dodgers right-hander faced seven batters in the second inning, allowing three singles and two earned runs. Another run scored on a fielding error.

The Padres would finish with 11 hits, several proving timely; two came in the fourth, leading to a sacrifice fly.

Stults, who contributed one of those second-inning singles, surrendered the Dodgers’ lone run in the third, on Matt Kemp’s sac fly. Otherwise, Stults navigated out of trouble; he allowed four hits while recording five strikeouts.

The Padres bullpen entered the game allowing a .210 average. Since 1914, only the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals (.202) and the 2003 Dodgers (.207) have been better. Wednesday, Blaine Boyer, Dale Thayer and Kevin Quackenbush combined for four scoreless innings of relief. With closer Joaquin Benoit still contending with a “cranky” shoulder, Quackenbush collected his first career save.

Last weekend in St. Louis, given Benoit’s unavailability, Black informed Quackenbush that a ninth-inning opportunity was on the horizon.