JUPITER, Fla. — I turned on the tape recorder and started asking questions.
Mat Latos, the Marlins’ new right-hander, had answers.
Below is a transcript of the interview, which took place Sunday morning. The order of questions is as I asked them. I made minor edits to some of the answers, but these are Latos’ words.
The Reds, Latos’ previous club, declined to comment through a spokesman when asked to respond to some of his remarks.
Q: How frustrating was last season?
(Latos did not pitch until June 14 while recovering from left-knee meniscus surgery and did not pitch after Sept. 7 due to a bone bruise on his pitching elbow.)
A: If there is one thing I could change, I would have not come back so soon. I tried to get out there as quickly as possible to help out the team. It was basically the same thing that (Reds first baseman) Joey (Votto) went through with his knee, the same exact thing. I rushed myself and tried to get back as soon as possible, tried to compete with the team. I wound up costing myself.
Pitching at 80-90 percent wasn’t the greatest idea on my end. I kind of screwed myself over with it. I kept having setbacks with the knee. I guess it is what it is. You can’t change it now.
Q: I guess you learned that you have to take care of yourself. (Reds right fielder) Jay (Bruce) went through the same thing, coming back too quickly.
(Bruce underwent similar knee surgery in May and returned in less than three weeks.)
A: There seems to be a trend going on there.
Q: Are they rushing guys back?
A: I won’t touch any of that. I was told that I needed to start doing activities at a minimum of 10 days after surgery. They had me throwing on the fifth day after surgery. Then they had me running the seventh day after surgery. Then I was already lifting 10 days after surgery.
Q: So it wasn’t entirely your decision?
A: No. They asked me how I felt. I felt great. I did. Because I didn’t have something jagged and sharp in my knee as I was walking and running on it.
It’s kind of obvious when you’re looking at it and the (physical therapist) is looking at it, and this knee looks like a water balloon and this knee looks like a regular knee, don’t you think you would say, "Hey, let’s get some of that swelling down before we do anything?” But there’s nothing I can do about it. I went along with it because I wanted to be out there. I figured they knew what they were talking about.
Q: So, were you happy to be traded?
A: In a sense. It sucks — that was a great group of guys I got to play with, a great coaching staff, a great owner. But I guess I just wasn’t a fit. They wanted to go in another direction. They wanted to try and keep (Johnny) Cueto, lock Cueto up. It is what it is.
They traded me here. There could have been a lot worse places I could have been traded to. At least I’m familiar and comfortable with Miami. So, it’s fine. It was home for me for quite some time; I basically lived here for 22 years.
I accept it. I’m happy they traded me. Obviously, if I wasn’t a fit, they didn’t need me or want me there, then yeah, get rid of me.
Q: You’re coming up on free agency. Guys react differently in their free-agent years. Have you thought about that at all, how you will approach it?
A: No. I’m here to do a job. I’m here to compete. I’m here to win. I’m here to help some of the younger guys out. That’s always been my mentality, even if I’m a rent-a-player, if you want to call it that, for a year.
I’m on the team right now. If I can help them out in any way possible, any way to win a championship, I’m willing to do it. I’m not looking forward toward free agency. I’m looking at it one day at a time, doing the right things to stay healthy, to get healthy in the offseason.
Q: Did you do anything different in your training regimen this off-season?
A: I had them dig into my hip bone and put stem cells in my right elbow. That was right after the season. I had to take two months off. Then I was ready to go, throwing, running, doing all my stuff.
Q: You will be a young free agent (Latos will hit the market entering his age-28 season). In this group, (Red Sox right-hander) Rick Porcello is the only one younger. Does it excite you to think about what could happen?
A: If I do think about it, yeah, it does. But again, we’re going day by day. I’m not too worried about it. It’s more exciting because I’m so young, and I’ve still got a good learning curve, a chance to reach my prime and compete. That, and having to deal with a lot of the crap I’ve dealt with through the last organizations I’ve been with, and then going through arbitration this year (Latos lost, receiving the Marlins’ offer of $9.4 million rather than his request of $10.4 million).
You see it as a business. You kind of see how much of a pawn you really are. So, it’s going to be nice, for once, to see teams kind of fighting over you, trying to sign you. That I am looking forward to. When you hit free agency, there will be teams interested in you and hopefully there will be multiple teams going at it, back and forth.
That sort of thing, it’s gratifying — after being told by the Padres that I wasn’t going anywhere during a holiday dinner and then being traded eight days later and not being called by the GM. With the Reds, there were ups and downs, bumps and bruises, great times along the way. But you learn about certain characters, certain guys that are in the organization and baseball in general. It’s going to be good to test free agency, if I do test free agency, to have a couple of teams fighting over you.
Q: How did you find out that the Padres traded you?
A: I woke up, had like 50 text messages. I fell asleep with SportsCenter on that day. It was on the bottom line. I called my agent. He said, “(GM) Josh Byrnes couldn’t get ahold of you.” I had zero missed calls from him. I had to call him. Maybe he had the wrong number.
We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m not worried about it. I’m not bitter about it. I’ve moved on from it. They went in a different direction and I got a chance to play in the playoffs while they were doing whatever they were doing. And now I’m here in beautiful South Florida. I can’t complain. I get to go on a boat every day.
Q: How do you look back on your time with the Reds? Did it leave a bad taste in your mouth?
A: Not at all. I had great teammates. When I first came over in 2012, a lot of the guys were quiet. I’m outgoing, I’m outspoken, I like to goof around, have a good time, keep things loose. It was a little different. But I got to hang out with great guys.
I got to hang out with one of the funniest guys I’ve even been around, Sam LeCure. There is not a word you could use to describe how funny that dude is. Then there was the quiet assassin, Joey Votto. He was a great teammate, a great guy. He was always ready to play, always ready to fight. Every time you saw him, he was always like, “Hey, how you doing?” Making sure he touched base with you to see how you were doing.
And I had two more years with probably the best teammate I ever had, Ryan Ludwick. I was with him in San Diego for two years. Luddy to this day is still the best teammate I’ve had in the big leagues. There were a lot of great guys on that team, a lot of talent on that team.
Q: With Joey, all the stuff people said last year about him not being hurt, you didn’t buy that?
A: No. I’m going to tell you right now, Joey at 100 percent healthy is the greatest hitter in the National League. There is no way that I would step away from that because of the way he hits, the way he is.
He’s a guy who doesn’t hit many pull-home runs unless he’s out in front on an off-speed pitch. He doesn’t pull the ball much. He hits the ball right-center all the way over to the left-field foul pole. He gets a lot of hits. He knows what he’s doing. He works his tail off at first base defensively.
There is no way, no way that this guy was faking an injury last year, absolutely no way.
Q: What about the argument that he should swing more and not take as many walks?
A: No. Up until last year, he had hit (.314) in his career, doing the same thing he has been doing, why would you change him?
Would you tell (Andrew) McCutchen to start swinging and hitting more home runs? Would you tell Ryan Howard to start hitting more singles and doubles? No. You’re not going to do that. Joey has been hitting .300 all of his career. He has had one bad year with a bad knee. Why would you tell him to do anything different?
Q: What about the Marlins? What do you think?
A: This team is going to be a lot of fun. There is a lot of talent in here. My agent asked me (at the start of the offseason), "Let’s say you’re not traded. What teams would you be interested in free agency?" The first one that popped into my head was this one. Because of the young core. You’ve got a lot of young guys in their early to mid 20s, all stacked together, who don’t have a lot of (service) time. Well, that one little veteran presence in there can make a big difference.
You look at the Reds after we lost Bronson (Arroyo, after the 2013 season). Everything went to s—. You look at it after we lost Scott Rolen (after 2012). Everything went to s—. When Scott was there, we had guys doing exactly what they were supposed to do. After Scott left, we had guys with two years in the big leagues, in the clubhouse, on their phones, laying down in the video room, just hanging out during games, not in the dugout, not cheering their teammates on. Our dugout looked like a ghost town.
After Bronson, the same exact thing. We had starters in there roping our (clubhouse attendants), like, cattle-roping our clubbies. Guys on their computers, buying stuff, hanging out in the clubhouse. We had a guy with a year-and-a-half in the big leagues wandering around the clubhouse, hanging out. We had a closer in there sleeping until the seventh inning. We lose that veteran leadership, that’s what happens. You can’t have that … it turns into a circus.
My main thing here is guys will do what they want to do. I don’t care. That’s fine. They’re grown men. They can do whatever they want. But come game time, I want three to four hours of accountability. No cellphones. Focus on the game.
I just want to keep it to a minimum. There is no reason anyone needs to be in the clubhouse on their phone, on their iPad, doing anything other than what they’re supposed to be doing. You want to go grab coffee, by all means go ahead. You want to grab a snack or drink, go to the bathroom, go ahead. I don’t care. Get in, get out, let’s go, get ready. Accountability. Responsibility. Three to four hours a day.