CINCINNATI — While Johnny Cueto (16-6) is the Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher most cussed and discussed by frustrated opposing hitters, Mat Latos hasn’t been laying low.
After a rough start — a 1-2 record for five April starts with a 5.97 earned run average — Latos has won nine of his last 10 decisions with 12 quality starts on his 25-game resume with the Reds.
Manager Dusty Baker doesn’t call him Mat, he calls him Big Latos — not just because he is 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, but because he constantly comes up big on the mound.
“Big Latos has been big-time solid for us, especially since June,” said Baker. “Big Latos is pitching, fielding, hitting and doing everything a pitcher can do.”
He worked hard and deep into a game Sunday against the Chicago Cubs — eight innings, two earned runs — but his record stayed at 10-3 because he received a no-decision.
The Reds uncharacteristically made three errors that led to two unearned runs and Latos left after eight innings with the score tied, 4-4, in a game they won in the bottom of the ninth, 5-4. In his previous start, Latos gave up no runs and five hits in seven innings, but also received a no-decision when his team didn’t score against the Mets until after he left.
“He could easily have as many wins as Cueto,” said Baker, “With any kind of luck.”
April has never been a success month for Latos, but this month was even creepier. Latos was obtained in the offseason from the San Diego Padres for four players — All-Star pitcher Edinson Volquez and three top prospects in first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal and relief pitcher Brad Boxberger.
Latos admits he felt the pressure of proving his one body was worth four bodies, so he tried too hard during the first month of the season.
“I, uh, I’m trying to think of the right words to say about April and, uh, words I can say — but to pitch right now the way I know I can pitch makes it exciting,” he said.
“A lot of my problems in April was me trying to prove myself,” he said. “I mean, I got traded for four guys and I didn’t necessarily think I was worth four guys.”
So far he has proved he is worth it and the proof is to check the standings to see where the first-place Reds reside and where the fourth-place Padres reside.
“That’s just me in general,” he said. “We’ll see. But I’m fortunate with this opportunity that has been given me and I wanted to get off on a good note from the get-go. But I didn’t. I let a lot of people down. But I’m slowly working to gain the confidence of the fans. It’s been a dream so far.
“What makes it exciting is that I came from San Diego, where we weren’t winning, to where I wake up every morning in a playoff atmosphere and we’re ready to rock and roll every day. It adds a lot of adrenaline and excitement,” he said.
Pitching in a park that prides itself on inviting home runs, Latos has given up 21. Five came in one game. And he won that game.
That’s the kind of year it has been for him — you never know what might happen on the day he pitches, but it is mostly sound and solid stuff.
He gave up only six hits and no home runs Sunday and walked off the field with nothing more than a pat on the butt from his manager and a big, “Hang with ’em.” But the team won and that’s all that matters to him. With eight no-decisions this year, he stays in a grin-and-bear-it mode, usually having done what his job description demands.