CINCINNATI – The last thing Dusty Baker needed to hear Thursday was that his starting pitcher was sick. Mat Latos hadn’t been feeling good before he took the mound against the Arizona Diamonbacks and in the middle of the game he stepped back down the hallway from the Reds’ dugout and let it out. Latos let it all out.
With the shape the bullpen is in, Latos being sick really wasn’t an option.
“I said to wipe it off,” said Baker, “and get back to work.”
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Latos might not have been able to hold water down but he was able to do his job for eight innings and hold down the Diamondbacks as the Reds won 2-1 to take three of four in the series and increase their lead for the second wild card spot in the National League to seven games over Arizona. The Reds’ ninth win in the last 12 games, and 12th in their last 16 contests, also keeps the pressure on Pittsburgh and St. Louis in the NL Central race.
This team has yet to play its best baseball yet. They are now 18 games over .500 (73-55) but no one is saying they are hot.
They are doing whatever it takes to win games, like Latos pitching at least seven innings for the fifth time in his last six starts and allowing two earned runs or less for the seventh straight start. Like Sam LeCure coming on to pitch the ninth inning against the heart of the Arizona order and getting his first career save. Or like Todd Frazier getting down just his second sacrifice bunt of the season in the eighth inning to move Shin-Soo Choo over to third base with one out. Choo would score the winning run on a wild pitch one batter later.
The Reds still leave runners on base, don’t do this well enough or that up to snuff but 18 games over .500 is 18 games over .500 and they are headed in the right direction – toward the postseason. Arizona had a chance this series to put itself into the thick of the playoff race but the Reds instead knocked the Diamondbacks further down the hill.
“We have to go out there every single day trying to win the series,” said catcher Devin Mesoraco. “Just because this is the team that we’re competing against for that second wild card I don’t think we put any extra pressure into it. Every series is important right now.”
The Reds knew Aroldis Chapman wasn’t going to be available to pitch after throwing two innings Wednesday night. J.J. Hoover wasn’t available after pitching the last three days. Jonathan Broxton wasn’t available and won’t be available for the rest of the season because of another elbow injury.
Latos is now 13-4 on the season with an ERA that dropped to 2.93. Baker spoke earlier in the season about Latos needing to consistently pitch into the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to be considered a big game pitcher. He’s certainly on his way.
“This is what champions are made of. Sometimes Latos in the past would have trouble staying in those games but he’s grown up before our eyes,” said Baker. “He did what aces do.”
Even when he wasn’t feeling like an ace.
“Right before I went out to warm-up, right before the first inning and right before I went out for the fifth inning,” said Latos about his needs to heave-ho.
“Any chance that we get to save (the bullpen) from having to come in and throw from the seventh on, it’s a key so I try to take full advantage of that. I talked with (pitching coach Bryan) Price and told him I was fine, I would go the eighth. It’s key because in the long run we’re going to need them in the later part of the season.”
The only other save LeCure has earned in his professional career was on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville in 2011. LeCure has done a little bit of everything for the Reds since coming up to the big leagues in 2010. He’s started, been the long reliever who got spot starts, been the mop-up guy and grown into the role of setting up.
“I was trying to get myself to not think about it, that this was just three outs,” said LeCure. “Chappy picked us up big time yesterday going out and getting a bunch of outs. He needed the day off. We can’t blow him out at the end of August. We’ve got a lot of games left. I was thankful for Dusty to give me the opportunity.
“Dusty has said he wants me to be a utility pitcher and I think I’m capable of throwing in a lot of different roles. I like that so I don’t feel like I’m limited to one role.”
In the last five starts made by Latos, the Reds scored a total of 10 runs, including Thursday. They took advantage of three wild pitches by Arizona starter Trevor Cahill following a leadoff single by Choo to take a 1-0 lead in the third inning. They left five runners on in the first three innings, however.
Nothing is easy with this team but it’s still a team that is 18 games over .500.
“We’re not hot yet. We’re just winning,” said Baker. “We’re getting warmer.”