Cubs-Padres Preview

For more than four months, Mat Latos was automatic for the San

Diego Padres – shutting down one opponent after another.

Now with less than a week left in the season and a playoff berth

on the line, Latos is struggling.

Following a slight adjustment to his delivery, Latos hopes to

avoid losing his fourth straight start when he takes the ball for

the Padres on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs.

San Diego (87-69) dropped a game behind idle San Francisco in

the NL West and one-half game back of Atlanta in the wild-card

standings with a 1-0 loss to the Cubs (71-85) in Monday’s

opener.

“Nobody likes to lose, whether it’s April or September,”

manager Bud Black said.

After three more games against the Cubs, the Padres conclude the

season with three weekend games in San Francisco.

Latos (14-8, 2.91 ERA) has been instrumental to the Padres’

being in this position and was looking like a strong candidate to

take the ball in a possible playoff opener a few weeks ago, but he

has been shaky lately.

The 22-year-old right-hander has a 13.94 ERA in losing his last

three starts after going 13-2 with a 1.58 ERA in his previous 21.

This includes a stretch when he set a big league record of 15

straight starts of five or more innings with two or fewer runs

allowed. One of those outings came at Wrigley Field on Aug. 19,

when Latos yielded two runs while striking out 10 in seven innings

of a 5-3 win.

After allowing three runs and six hits in five innings in

Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, he worked with pitching coach

Darren Balsley on his delivery during a bullpen session.

“He wasn’t staying behind his fastball, so his four-seamer was

cutting a little bit and he was getting it up in the zone,” Balsley

told the Padres’ official website. “He was throwing across his body

quite a bit, and his hips were sliding the wrong way. We just made

an adjustment of getting on a better line to home plate and getting

behind his fastball, and it’s seemed to work.”

San Diego hopes it works because time is running out. Latos’

next start will likely be Sunday against the Giants in the

regular-season finale.

The Padres also need to get their offense in gear.

They’ve combined for 10 hits and two runs in losing their last

two games, and have scored four runs or fewer in each of their last

six.

Ryan Ludwick is 2 for 19 with seven strikeouts in his last six

contests, but is a career .444 hitter with a homer and three

doubles in 27 at-bats against Ryan Dempster (14-11, 3.87),

Chicago’s scheduled starter.

Dempster was tagged for nine runs and seven hits while hitting

two batters in a season-low 1 2-3 innings in Thursday’s 13-0 loss

to San Francisco. It was the most runs the 13-year-veteran allowed

since 2003.

“You certainly have to put this one behind you,” Dempster said.

“This is a turn-the-page game for me.”

Dempster’s had a couple of ugly outings like this lately, but

when he hasn’t been knocked around recently, the right hander has

pitched brilliantly. In his last six outings, Dempster has a 0.00

ERA in winning three but an 18.32 ERA in losing the others.

Dempster will make his first start of the year against the

Padres after going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two outings last

season.