Latos talks as good a game as he pitches
PEORIA, Ariz. – The faucet that is Mat Latos'(notes) mouth long ago busted a valve. The filter broke, too. And so every day, 6-foot-6 of pomp and bombast spews inside the San Diego Padres clubhouse. Mount Latos is a welcome rarity in a sanitized sports world: blind to most conventions and dismissive of the ones with which he's familiar.
Latos was at it again Saturday after a Padres' workout at Peoria Sports Complex, happy to play Anton Chigurh to sacred cows. You'd figure, after all, that following a pair of San Francisco-related controversies Latos created – accusing the Giants derogatorily last year of being a patched-together team and inscribing "I hate SF" on a ball for a charity auction this year – he'd steer clear.
But then that wouldn't be Mat Latos, now, would it?
"I could care less about people in San Francisco, what they think and what they say," he said. "Everybody is entitled to their opinion on everything. I could talk until I'm blue in the face about it. I'm sure Philly thinks the same thing. Florida probably thinks the same thing. People have their own opinions. Let them tweet about it."
Latos does not like Twitter. This is something of a surprise. Twitter was made for Latos, who talks in short bursts faster than a court reporter types.
"It's a waste of my time," he said. "There's no point. Twitter is nothing. Twitter is a bunch of people that get online and send a bunch of messages to one another that talk about professional sports and athletes and think what they say matters. Everybody's a comedian on Twitter. Whatever."
Alternately angry, funny, caustic, serious and caring, Latos certainly isn't one thing: boring. Not with his thoughts nor his stuff, as he spent a good portion of his first full season leading the National League in earned-run average and returns with a blistering fastball, wipeout slider and Bochy-sized head.
"When I have my best stuff, I feel like I’m untouchable," Latos said. "That's the attitude you have to have as a pitcher. Otherwise, you won't get very far.
"Call it whatever you want. I call it me. It's not cocky. I'm not like going out and showing up the players on the other team when I get them out. I'm going out and being me. I'm going out and having confidence in my stuff, confidence in every pitch I throw. Because if I'm not, I'll get eaten alive."
The transformation of Latos into baseball's most outspoken pitcher actually took some maturation. He used to be far worse. One American League scout who watched Latos in high school said he was "undraftable" because of his propensity to dress down teammates. His reputation chased him to Broward College, where he went after the Padres drafted him in the 11th round. Comforted by Latos' year at school, San Diego paid him $1.25 million and fast-tracked him.
When Latos arrived in the middle of the 2009 season, the Padres couldn't quite figure him out. Latos flits about the clubhouse like the fly that, nearing its demise, starts to bounce off walls. Before San Diego's workout Saturday, he spent time asking reliever Mike Adams(notes) permission to get a similar tattoo – Latos, inked to the gills, including one of Stewie and Brian Griffin from "Family Guy" on his right calf, respects tattoo etiquette – before jumping up to get a Gatorade. On the way, he tapped the ear of prospect Anthony Rizzo(notes), inserted himself into a conversation with a tableful of Padres and left in his wake knowing grins.
By now, they understand him. Latos doesn't go out trying to bring attention to himself. He just doesn't mind when it finds him.
"He has an edge about himself, and while that's not the reason, it's part of why he's so successful on the mound," Padres starter Clayton Richard(notes) said. "He takes his attitude there. With that tenacity and competitive drive, it's only going to help him succeed."
And succeed Latos did, even as the Padres pushed him well past his prescribed innings limit as they tried to fight off the surging Giants in September. After giving up 16 earned runs between June 10 and Sept. 7, Latos allowed 16 over his next three starts. While he allowed just two runs in six innings against the Giants in Game 162, Jonathan Sanchez(notes) shut down the Padres and they ceded the division on which they once held a death grip.
The Giants weren't shy in reminding Latos about his ill-conceived words that only looked sillier as San Francisco cruised to a World Series title.
"Say what you want," Adams said, "but if you're going to talk, you'd better not look like a dumbass. He's 23. He's going to have to be told every now and then to back off a little. It's more correcting him. He's still young. He's learning. Sometimes, he forgets that. But, hey. It's all right. The people in the clubhouse understand him, so that's all that really matters."
Whether Latos understands his limitations is the biggest question for San Diego going forward. Although manager Bud Black encourages his players to be themselves, "there are," he said, "times where certain things you prefer not to have been said." However tangible its psychological impact, bulletin-board material does exist. And Latos could fill an entire one himself.
Rather than do that, Latos would like to think he figured out the balance between talking and enraging. "We know what we need to say," he said. "We know what we want to say. We know what we have to say. We know what we can't say."
He paused for a moment, a rare hiatus for his mind. It needed a moment to reload.
"There's things you're going to do in your life that are going to tick people off but make others happy," Latos said. "That's the way life is. And I'm not going to change that. That's who I am. Am I a bad guy?
"I don't really care."