Mat Latos' unconventional success

Off to an excellent start, the unconventional Mat Latos finally has the April Anvil off his back.

CINCINNATI — Some say that Mat Latos marches to the beat of a different drummer, but that isn’t true. Latos is his own drummer.

How many baseball pitchers raise 21 boa constrictors and a cayman (small crocodile) for breeding purposes?

How many baseball pitchers are covered head to toe with body art and when asked how many tattoos they have they say, “Just one. It isn’t completed yet.”

How many baseball pitchers, when their wives kiddingly ask why they ever married them, respond with, “You had three chances. I asked you to date me and you said, ‘Yes.’ I asked you to marry me and you said, ‘Yes.’ When we got to the alter, you said, ‘I do.’ That was three chances to say no — three strikes and you are out.”

Matt Latos, the 25-year-old, 6-6, 244-pound right hander can say yes to all those questions.

And he still wonders in the back of his mind, “Why would any baseball team trade four good players for me? It doesn’t make sense.”

The Cincinnati Reds traded an established starting pitcher, Edinson Volquez, and three high draft picks — first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Brad Boxberger — to San Diego for Latos on December 17, 2011.

And the Reds are more than satisfied with the outcome. Latos was 14-4 with a 3.48 earned run average last year and as he heads for Saturday’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers he is 3-0 with a 2.23 earned run average in seven starts this year. Frankly, he has pitched well enough to be 7-0.

“We’re glad we got him,” said manager Dusty Baker, master of the understated. “You hope he is getting better. He had a slow start last year, but with the kind of finish he had, who knows how good he can be. The next best thing is to keep him healthy and hope he gets better and better and better.”

Latos has averaged little better than six innings for his seven starts and Baker said, “We’d like to take him deeper into games. That’s the next stop for him.”

Latos remembers walking into spring training camp last year after the trade was made, knowing nobody and feeling eyes drilling the back of his blond head.

“We’re talking about guys like Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips and Scott Rolen and I didn’t know what to think,” said Latos. “It didn’t help that Joey is so non-talkative, a quiet guy. I didn’t know that when I came in and I thought they were sitting there looking at me and saying, ‘This is what we traded four guys for? — especially in all of April when I was getting the crap kicked out of me.

“All last season, that was on my mind, I was worried about performing,” he said, wondering how he could ever put something together worthy of four good players.

His fast start this April is heartening because, as he said, “April usually kicks my butt.” He was 1-2 with a 5.97 ERA in April, 2012. “But after some talks with (pitching coach) Bryan Price and some minor adjustments, me and April got along pretty well this year.”

Now that the April Anvil is off his back, Latos wants May through September to be what it was last year when he was 13-2.

“I’d like to incorporate this April into what I did last year in the other months for this year,” he said. “Let’s have the same as last year for May through September and that would be unbelievable.”

That would be 15-2. And maybe that’s possible.

“I’ve adjusted my mechanics and my approach to pitching and it has worked really well,” he said. “I have to stick to it and keep attacking. I can’t control anything after the ball leaves my hand so the only person I can get mad at is myself if I start walking people.”

In 44 1/3 innings, he has walked 11 and struck out 43.

“In the off-season I went back to look at my mechanics on video from when I was pitching in 2010 (14-10, 2.92 for the Padres),” he said. “That was when I was REALLY throwing well. My arm angle had dropped down a little from what it was and the ball was flatter. I started going more over the top and it worked.”

And for once, April didn’t shower him with poor outings.