Spring Swing: Latos mixes signals in second start

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The great thing about abbreviated spring training starts is that they offer the opportunity for a wide range of interpretation and perspective.

Take Mat Latos' outing on Sunday, for example. The biggest acquisition of Cincinnati's offseason surrendered two earned runs over three innings in a 5-4 split-squad win against the Angels and most everyone was willing to label his outing as "just one bad pitch."

For the most part, it was a description that fit. Latos did give up a two-run homer to second baseman Alexi Amarista in the second inning and it did overshadow the good things he did. He retired Peter Bourjos, Alberto Callaspo and Bobby Abreu in order to start the game — Albert Pujols spent the day back in Tempe — and he also struck out a total of three batters. If this were later in the spring and his innings limit were higher, he could have turned it into a nice outing.

So it wouldn't have a been a bad thing to presume good things for the future.

"He threw some outstanding curveballs, which is tough to do here in Arizona," Reds manager Dusty Baker said after the game. "That's almost impossible and he did a great job of that."

But if Latos was also seeing the glass as half-full, his immediate attitude didn't show it. He argued with Rob Butcher, the Reds' PR pro, about having to talk with us writers after his appearance. Then, when Latos shuffled to where we were standing about three feet away, his body language and responses suggested he'd rather be doing the cha-cha with a cactus. So Mat, how'd it go?


Were you happy with how things went?


Mr. Talkative, he was not. Whether Latos was upset with the homer or concerned he'd miss the shuttle back to the Reds' compound on the sprawling Goodyear campus or just showing the difficult reputation that has always preceded him, it was tough to say.

But there's little mistaking that the Reds are expecting big things from Latos this season and that he shares that thought. The 24-year-old right-hander was acquired in a December trade that saw Edinson Volquez and top prospect Yonder Alonso get shipped to San Diego with two other players. Latos has acknowledged the pressure that comes with being traded for four men and says he "tries not to think about" the haul that was required to pry him from the Padres.

The Reds, however, think the price was worth paying because Latos' presence should elevate the team's rotation as it tries to reclaim the NL Central title it won in 2010. While he won't start opening day in Cincinnati — that honor will fall to Johnny Cueto — he will start the second game of the season. Given the expense the Reds had to incur to obtain him, it's probably not a reach to say they expect Latos to start a postseason series if the team makes it that far.

That's not to say that Latos doesn't have some questions to answer before then. His 2011 line took a little dip from his breakout 2010 (his ERA inflated from 2.92 to 3.47) and he'll be pitching in a ballpark which is not as friendly to pitchers at Petco Park was.

After all, "just one bad pitch" at Great American Ballpark is enough to justify the mood that Latos was showing off on Sunday. Then again, the explosive Reds offense can provide that wide interpretation that we were talking about at the beginning of this piece.

Either way, there's no arguing that it's a big year for Mat Latos.

Two more observations from a day in Goodyear ...

Perhaps Latos was just feeling a little bit ornery because he was literally seeing red. Both the Angels and Reds were clothed in crimson for Sunday's game and it made for a confusing situation if you lost track of which half-inning it was. I'm not sure if this happens often in spring training — or at all — but it also seems about the most spring training thing ever.

* * *

Barry Larkin is serving another spring stint in Reds camp as he works with a pair of young shortstops in Zack Cozart and Didi Gregorius. But he's even more visible than in years past as a banner celebrating his recent election to the Hall of Fame adorns the left-field berm.

Are you really ready for opening day?
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