CINCINNATI – The streak had to come to an end at some point. Mat Latos had gone to the mound 21 times for the Cincinnati Reds since last Aug. 24 without taking an “L” next to his name.
On Tuesday night, the Pirates scored three runs off of Latos in their first six batters and the Reds’ offense never retaliated in a 4-0 Pittsburgh victory. Latos wasn’t comfortable coming out of the bullpen and took it to the mound, where the Pirates took it to him in a 32-pitch, 19-minute first inning.
This was the exception away from the norm for Latos.
While Latos had been 10-0 in that 21-game stretch, the Reds had, more important, gone 17-4 in those starts. They have won 33 of his 48 career starts for them since he was acquired from San Diego after the 2011 season. He has compiled a 20-5 record, including 6-1 this season.
“Winning the ball game is the only thing that matters,” Latos said. “I don’t care if I get the ‘W’, if (Aroldis) Chapman gets the ‘W’. I don’t care if they bring Corky Miller up from Triple-A and he comes in and pitches the 10th inning and he gets the ‘W’. I could care less, as long as the team wins. Would it have been nice for me to get a win? Of course, but at the end of the day whenever I can’t get a ‘W’ the best thing that can happen next is one of the guys in the bullpen gets a ‘W’.”
Two starts ago, Latos gave the Reds exactly what they needed when he held St. Louis to two runs over seven innings. Yet while the Reds have been winning the games Latos starts, he’s still learning how to get deeper into games.
After the St. Louis game, manager Dusty Baker was asked if Latos was a “big game” pitcher. Baker’s answer was: “Almost.”
The Reds’ bullpen has lost leads five times this season in games Latos has started, but in only one of those games did Latos make it through the seventh inning. He has gone seven or more innings only four times in 15 starts in 2013. He did it 17 times in 33 starts last season, including 10 of his final 13 starts.
It’s part of the growth process for Latos, who is just 25 years old despite this being his fourth full season in the big leagues. It’s a process Johnny Cueto (27), Homer Bailey (27) and Mike Leake (25) have also had to undergo the past couple of seasons.
“This is where Leake was before,” Baker said. “If you can get past the seventh you can piecemeal (the bullpen) a lot easier in the eighth than you can piecemeal in the seventh and the eighth.”
Instead, Latos is still fighting himself at times. That’s what happened in the first inning Tuesday night. Starling Marte led off with a triple into the right-center gap and scored on an infield hit by Russell Martin. Pedro Alvarez later drove in two runs with an opposite-field single.
“I got aggravated with myself,” Latos said. “I beat myself today. I gave up those three runs and it’s always a hard knock whenever you go through the first inning and put your team in a 3-0 hole. I kind of couldn’t help out with our hitters.”
Latos retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced after Alvarez’s single, allowing just a one-out walk to Gaby Sanchez in the fourth inning. He struck out nine Pirates in his five innings but had to be lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning when the Reds had runners on second and third with two outs and a chance to get back into the game.
“I made an adjustment and stopped getting aggravated with myself and just pitched,” Latos said.
Baseball allows itself to some odd stats and occurrences. The Reds are 3-0 against St. Louis in games Latos starts this season. They are now 0-3 against the Pirates in his starts. The first two times, the Pirates rallied from deficits of 5-0 and 4-0 for wins at PNC Park.