If Mat Latos rebounds from the early struggles that have marked his first season with Cincinnati Reds, Monday’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers might have been the turning point. Latos dominated a division rival. He struck out 13 batters and allowed only one run in his first complete game since May 13, 2010.
Things were not so rosy from the start — Latos walked Norichika Aoki and allowed a bunt single to Nyjer Morgan to begin the game. After striking out Ryan Braun, Latos then went to a 2-1 count against Aramis Ramirez. Latos blew a 92.1 mph fastball by Ramirez for strike two. Typically, such a pitch would not be so notable, but this one began a stretch of 24 strikes in a row — a stretch that would set the tone for the rest of Latos’s night.
Ramirez flew out on the next pitch. Corey Hart struck out to end the threat in the first. Latos wouldn’t throw another ball until Ramirez was up again in the fourth inning with one out, and he retired all nine batters he faced during the strike streak (as well as two more immediately following). Observe, his impeccable location:
Latos didn’t even need help from the home plate umpire; only five of the 24 pitches were noticeably outside the rulebook strike zone, and all five were whiffed on. Another three were whiffed on inside the strike zone. Twelve went for called strikes, two for fouls and two for in play outs — that is, Brewer hitters swung 12 times during this stretch and made contact just four times.
Overall, Latos threw 80 strikes and drew a tremendous 23 whiffs on 109 pitches, with 15 of those whiffs coming on his 44 sliders (34.1%). Latos went to the slider 13 times in two-strike counts and buried it in the lower-outside corner of the plate to get seven of his 13 strikeouts. Six of them were swinging, one was looking.
Latos’s full season numbers — 5.20 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 8.8% swinging strike rate, all easily career worsts — following a start of this caliber put into perspective just how horrible his first 13 starts with the Reds were. Given the price Cincinnati paid to acquire him from the Padres — and the playoff expectations on the team this season — Latos will feel the pressure to perform like the ace he was in San Diego. Monday’s excellence against Milwaukee makes the perfect beginning to the rest of his season.
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