In first start since DL stint, Mat Latos shows Marlins his vintage self
MIAMI -- Over the course of a seven-year career, Miami Marlins right-hander Mat Latos has limited opponents to 7.97 hits per nine innings, fourth fewest in the National League behind the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain and Johnny Cueto.
His 61-49 record and 3.46 ERA in 152 starts compares with the most consistent of arms. Since his rookie season in 2009, he never posted an ERA higher than 3.48. That company and that type of production are why the Marlins dealt prospect Anthony DeSclafani for him over the offseason despite it being a contract year.
But after opening with a 1-4 record and 6.12 ERA in nine starts, Latos went on the 15-day disabled list on May 23 (retro May 22) with left knee inflammation. He didn't look fully healthy or comfortable.
In his return from the DL, Latos embodied his vintage self over seven one-run innings with 11 strikeouts in a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday.
Latos scattered four hits and two walks. It marked the 10th time he had reached double-digit strikeouts and equaled his highest total since July 6, 2013. He topped out at 96 mph on the radar gun in the first against Troy Tulowitzki.
"Not really a sense of relief," Latos said. "I knew what I was capable of doing, it was just a matter of having two legs under me. Everything just felt strong, everything was going for me. I was able to make some good pitches, execute some good offspeed pitches, had good movement on my two-seamer today, good command of both sides of the plate with the fastball."
The 27-year-old righty spent his time on the DL strengthening his leg before a rehab start this past Monday with Triple-A New Orleans.
Latos, who underwent knee surgery in February 2014 that kept him out until June, also got it drained this spring. He said he hasn't felt this healthy since the offseason.
"I worked out at a clinic, rehab center, with a person I called Sergeant Bilko because she was like a drill sergeant," Latos said. "She really got me to where I needed to be. We pounded this leg, took care of business every time I went in there. Made sure we got the strength back. That was the one thing. Inflammation wasn't an issue, soreness wasn't an issue, it was more of just strengthening. That was the whole process. Getting in there and doing specific exercises to strengthen certain areas of the leg that needed to be strengthened and keep on it."
Added Giancarlo Stanton, who drove in all four runs: "It looks like he's finally feeling good. ... His velocity was up. He was staying on the corners, so that was good."
Three of the first four batters went down via strikeout. Though two men got on base in the second, Latos escaped the jam with a lineout to left. He retired nine of the next 10, collecting six strikeouts during that stretch. Colorado's lone run came in the sixth when Tulowitzki drove in DJ LeMahieu with a one-out RBI single.
With lefty Mike Dunn warming up in the bullpen to face a left-handed batter, manager Dan Jennings allowed Latos to close out the seventh by facing pinch-hitter Rafael Ynoa. With a runner at third, Latos struck him out swinging with an 81 mph changeup.
Jennings said Latos set the tone early, taking charge of the game by executing quality pitches and challenging hitters. The veteran pitcher, once a model for consistency, returned to form on Saturday.
"We made the trade to go get an experienced guy who could do exactly what he did," Jennings said. "I think when you look at his quality and execution of pitch after pitch that was what was huge. He threw some cutters that they were swinging over by a foot. It's good to see him at 100 percent because I think you're truly seeing the Mat Latos that the Marlins traded for, and it's a huge boost for us."