Friday, August 3, 2012
Latos shows why he's Reds' true ace
By Matt Meyers
This past winter, when the Cincinnati Reds traded for Mat Latos, I remember there being a lot of talk that he would really suffer without having spacious Petco Park as his home field.
Of course, there obviously were going to be some difficulties for a pitcher moving from Petco to Great American Ballpark, and the big righty already has allowed 20 homers, a career high. But when you see Latos throw like he did Friday night, it doesn't matter what park he is in.
The 24-year-old dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates, shutting them out over 7 1/3 innings while allowing just seven baserunners and striking out five in Cincinnati's 3-0 victory. Most importantly, he was working down in the zone, and induced 13 grounders and just three fly balls. (As you well know, ground balls never leave the park.) Latos added a two-run home run for good measure and helped the Reds extend their National League Central lead to 4 1/2 games.
Latos definitely struggled a bit early on this season in his new digs, but in his past eight starts, he has a 2.13 ERA with 52 K's in 55 innings, and his talent is really starting to shine through. And while Johnny Cueto has better overall numbers, Latos is much better at missing bats and has the kind of stuff to thrive in the postseason, which is where the Reds appear to be heading. Long story short, if I'm Dusty Baker, I try to set my rotation to make Latos my Game 1 starter.
However, it should be noted that I might have a bit of a Latos bias.
Back in August 2005, I was working for Baseball America, and I was sent to Aberdeen, Md., to cover the Aflac All-American game. For those who are unfamiliar, it's a showcase of the best high school players in the country who are about to enter their senior year, and it is now known as the Perfect Game All-American Classic and takes place in San Diego.
Showcases like that are a lot of fun to cover because you know there are a bunch of future big leaguers there; you're just not sure who they will be. And as you can see at the bottom of this link, the 2005 class -- which featured Brett Anderson, Jordan Walden and Kyle Drabek, among others -- did not disappoint.
But as talented as those pitchers were, the guy who was generating the most buzz among scouts was Mat Latos. Given his 6-foot-6 frame and fastball that could then scrape 98 mph, it was easy to envision a 2006 first-round pick and a possible No. 1 starter. But there were murmurs about attitude problems, and Latos fell to the 11th round of the 2006 draft and signed with the San Diego Padres the following spring as part of the now-defunct draft-and-follow process for $1.25 million.
He looked like an immediate bargain and cruised through the minors in just two years, posting a 2.49 ERA and 10.5 K's per nine along the way. He finished eighth in the Cy Young Award vote in 2010, his first full season, and looked like he'd be in San Diego for a long time. But then the Padres decided to use Latos to rebuild, and traded him to the Reds this past winter for a package that included Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.
It was easy to predict a drop in numbers for Latos since he was moving out of baseball's most pitcher-friendly park, but he is showing that his home park was just part of the reason for his success. (It reminds me of how people once thought Matt Holliday was a product of Coors Field until he proved he wasn't.) And while the Reds gave up a lot for Latos, they are in position to win their division -- and possibly a World Series -- because of his talent.
And those championship chances will only increase if he keeps pitching like he did Friday.