Jae C. Hong/AP PhotoMat Latos has pitched like an ace during the Reds run to the NL Central lead.
In the last six weeks, Mat Latos has transformed himself into one of the top-performing pitchers in the National League.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the latest victims, succumbing to both Latos’ arm and his bat in Friday’s series-opening win for the Cincinnati Reds.
What’s the biggest difference between the Latos who struggled through the early part of the season, and the one who has used a 5-1 stretch over his last eight starts to bring his ERA under 4.00 for the first time this year?
One of the biggest changes has been the increased use of his slider. He’s increased the rate at which he throws it from once every five pitches (through his first 14 starts) to once every three pitches (in his last eight starts). In turn, he’s gotten more outs with the pitch in that eight-start stretch (63) than he did in that first 14 (61).
Friday, our pitch-performance data showed that Latos worked his slider to his glove side (away from righties, in to lefties) on 20 of the 24 that he threw.
The Pirates recorded only one hit against his slider. Six other hitters made outs, including two who hit into double plays.
The success with the slider has also made Latos incredibly tough in two-strike situations.
Opponents are 8-for-their-last 108 against him in two strike counts. He’s allowed nine two-strike home runs this season, but hasn’t allowed any in his last eight starts.
Speaking of home runs, Latos now has three on his career, the last two of which have come against the Pirates.
Sabathia’s slider was pretty good too
Latos wasn’t the only pitcher to dominate with his slider on Friday.
New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia had issues with his slider in his previous two starts, allowing a home run with the pitch in each of his previous two starts.
But the pitch netted Sabathia 15 outs in his win over the Mariners, with eight of those coming via strikeout.
That’s one shy of the most batters a pitcher has retired with his slider in a game this season, set by Ervin Santana against the Dodgers on June 23.
Mariners lefties could not reach the pitch. They went hitless against the 29 sliders he threw to them, 21 of which were on the outer-third of the plate or further away.
Sabathia recorded the 32nd game in his career with double-digit strikeouts. That ties Tim Lincecum for second-most in the majors, trailing only Johan Santana’s 50.
Sabathia has won his last eight decisions against the Mariners. That matches the Yankees record for the best streak against that team, shared with Ron Guidry and Mike Mussina.