<
>

Checking in on Mat Latos and Jake Peavy: Trying to find their stuff

Mat Latos made his spring debut against big leaguers on Tuesday as he hopes to bounce back from two injury-plagued seasons. Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tuesday's game between the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox was an interesting matchup between two veterans who dealt with injury issues in 2015, with one of them making his official spring debut. Let's take a look each:

The pitcher: Mat Latos, White Sox

The background: Latos battled elbow and knee injuries that limited him to 37 starts over the past two seasons. He posted a 4.95 ERA in 2015, his first season with an ERA above 3.50 since his 10-start rookie season in 2009. He didn’t sign with the White Sox until early February, inking a one-year, $3 million deal.

Why they need him: The rotation is strong at the front with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, and second-year lefty Carlos Rodon is a potential breakout performer. But No. 4 starter John Danks is 22-40 with a 4.73 ERA over the past three seasons, and there’s not much depth after him. Getting 30 starts from Latos would be huge.

What happened: Latos had pitched in a couple minor league games, but he was making his spring debut on the big field on Tuesday. He was solid through four innings -- giving up a couple of runs thanks largely to a couple of perfectly executed hit-and-run plays by the Giants -- then he fell apart in the fifth inning as the Giants scored five runs, including a long home run by Brandon Belt over the right-field bullpen and onto the walkway at Camelback Ranch. Miguel Olivo later added a two-run homer to left.

"To be honest, they got a couple cheap hits there," Latos said. But then added, "I backed away from what we were trying to accomplish and let it get to me and everything imploded."

Latos said he’s healthy and that his knee, which bothered him in 2015 after offseason surgery, is fine. As a veteran, he knows he can't let some bloopers and bleeders affect his performance.

"That might have been me in the past," he said. "Everyone has hiccups now and then, but that’s not me. I can’t get aggravated out there. It was embarrassing."

Latos said part of the game plan was to throw his fastball low and away and to miss low and away if he missed. In the fifth, he started missing with his fastball and a hung a slider to Belt. He said letting the hits get to him "was selfish on my part. I have to wear that."

The analysis: It sounds like a more mature Latos -- or at least a guy who wants to react with a little maturity. He quickly couched his “a couple cheap hits” excuse by admitting he let the game get away from him. The bigger issue is whether he can return to being the solid No. 2-caliber starter he was from 2010 to 2013, when he posted a 3.25 ERA for the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds while averaging 200 innings per season. When you dig into his peripheral stats from 2015, they weren’t as bad as a 4.95 ERA would indicate: His strikeout, walk and ground ball rates were right in line with his career norms. The one outlier was the percentage of home runs he allowed on fly balls, which is a number that can randomly fluctuate for many pitchers in any given year. Of course, Latos has to pitch half his games in The Cell, one of the top home run parks in the majors.

Given it was his first start against major leaguers -- although the Giants only had three of their projected regulars in the lineup -- you don’t want to read too much into this outing. It’s almost as important to remember that other than a couple of relief outings for the Los Angeles Angels, he has spent his entire career in the DH-less National League. He also has one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game on his side in Don Cooper -- "He challenges me on a day-to-day basis," Latos said -- and maybe that will help Latos maximize whatever he has left in his right arm. As you might expect, it likely comes down to his health. He’s a wild card at this point, but the White Sox will be happy if they can get 25 solid starts out of him.


The pitcher: Jake Peavy, Giants

The background: The veteran right-hander is entering his 15th season in the big leagues and coming off a season in which he made 19 starts for the Giants and posted a 3.58 ERA. The perception is that he’s always hurt -- he missed most of the first three months in 2015 with a back problem -- but he did make more than 30 starts in 2012 and 2014.

Why they need him: The signings of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija mean there’s less pressure on Peavy to be a big innings eater, but the Giants are hoping for a little more stability in a rotation that churned through eight primary starters last season. That rotation wasn’t very effective: While it ranked seventh in the NL with a 3.95 RA, you have to factor in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, which was ranked 25th in FanGraphs WAR. A nice 25 starts from Peavy will go a long way toward the Giants winning the NL West.

What happened: Peavy entered having given up 27 hits and four home runs in just 12⅔ innings. The ball rockets out of these Arizona spring training parks, but still ... that’s a lot of hits. Peavy walked Adam Eaton, Jimmy Rollins lined a single to right and Jose Abreu drilled a double over left fielder Mac Williamson's head. That led to two runs, then Austin Jackson homered in the second on a 2-0 pitch. It was a bit of a wind-aided blast, but that doesn’t cover up that Peavy fell behind in the count.

He did settle down after that, finishing with eight strikeouts in 4⅔ innings against a White Sox lineup that looked like their Opening Day lineup minus Brett Lawrie.

Peavy told Giants beat reporters after the game that he was happy with his eight strikeouts, particularly that his final two outs were strikeouts of Eaton and Abreu when facing them for a third time.

"That's stuff that we've been working on, and it's encouraging," he said. "Making better pitches, concentration level and trying to get strong enough to hold your stuff throughout."

The analysis: It’s been a rough spring for Giants, even with factoring in their veteran players. Peavy has a history of not pitching well in the spring, including a 9.65 ERA last season. Still, when you’re turning 35 in May and have 14 seasons of mileage in your tank, it’s a cause for concern. Samardzija, who struggled last spring for the White Sox and never did figure things out, has an 8.53 ERA and five home runs allowed in 18 innings. Cueto has pitched just twice in "A" games and allowed nine hits and eight runs in 4⅔ innings. Madison Bumgarner has given up 13 hits and nine runs in 7⅔ innings (although he at least has a 9-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio). It doesn’t mean anything yet, but the Giants would certainly like to start seeing better results from their rotation before the real games begin.