Mat Latos was so eager to celebrate his first major league win with friends and family that he tucked the game ball into the front pocket of his jeans and almost bolted the San Diego Padres clubhouse before speaking to reporters.
On a memorable night, the rookie’s mistake was quickly forgotten.
Latos pitched into the sixth inning to notch his first career victory, light-hitting Luis Rodriguez homered and matched a career high with three RBIs, and the Padres snapped their five-game skid with a 6-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Friday.
Latos (1-1), who lost in his major league debut July 18 after playing in the Futures Game during the All-Star weekend, allowed two runs and five hits over 5 2-3 innings. He walked two, struck out five and felt much more comfortable than in his initial outing.
“I was down in the zone, working down in the zone, making pitches when I needed to, just going after hitters,” Latos said. “Last time, I felt too much adrenaline – trying to punch everything up a notch.”
Padres manager Bud Black preferred Friday’s result but didn’t want Latos to change his approach too drastically.
“The message we wanted to instill in Mat was, the way you’ve been throwing this season – regardless of the level – will work at this level. Don’t change,” Black said.
The 21-year-old right-hander was born in nearby Alexandria, Va., and still has family in the area. More than 60 friends and family members – including his parents, who live in Louisa County, Va., about 100 miles southwest of Washington – came to Nationals Park to see Latos pitch.
The familiar faces weren’t a distraction.
“The first outing was when I was nervous,” he said. “I’m here to do a job. I’m here to work hard. I’m here to establish the strike zone.”
Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman homered for the Nationals, who have lost 13 of 16 and have the majors’ worst record at 28-68. Washington committed four errors for the third time this season, drawing the ire of interim manager Jim Riggleman.
“It was just a bad effort. … It was just particularly bad early – so bad early that it had the feeling as if we just weren’t ready to play,” he said. “That’s on me, and I can’t accept that.”
That the performance came against a Padres team that owns the National League’s second-worst record was even more humbling.
“We’re playing one of the worst teams in baseball tonight and we got our butts kicked,” Washington catcher Josh Bard said.
San Diego took advantage of a passed ball, and an error by Washington starter Garrett Mock for two unearned runs in the first.
Tony Gwynn drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on Bard’s passed ball and reached third when Mock (0-4) double-clutched on Everth Cabrera‘s sacrifice attempt for an error. Adrian Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly then Cabrera stole second and scored on Chase Headley‘s two-out double to right to make it 2-0.
Guzman homered in the bottom of the first.
Rodriguez’s solo shot made it 3-1 in the fourth. It was the second homer of the season and first in 48 games since April 17 for Rodriguez, who increased his batting average from .194 to .203 with the 2-for-4 effort.
In the sixth, San Diego loaded the bases on three singles before Rodriguez hit a one-out, two-run single to right-center for a 5-1 lead, knocking Mock from the game.
“Tonight is a game that, I think, is more indicative of how (Rodriguez) can play offensively,” Black said. “I’m not saying he’s going to hit a homer tomorrow, but he’s capable of hitting line drives with the bases loaded.”
Mock, making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on July 16, yielded five runs – three earned – on nine hits. He walked one and struck out five.
Zimmerman hit a full-count changeup from Latos over the fence in left-center for his 16th homer in the sixth.
NOTES: Padres C Henry Blanco, on the 15-day disabled list since July 5 with a right hamstring strain, caught in the bullpen before the game and could begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment next week, Black said. … Nationals LF Adam Dunn committed an error for the second consecutive game. Before Thursday, he had made only eight errors in 1,093 career games in the outfield. … Mock fanned Padres OF Kyle Blanks three times. Blanks has struck out 24 times in 63 at-bats this season.