Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mat Latos talks to catcher Devin Mesoraco on a mound visit during Tuesday night's 8-2 victory at Great American Ball Park over the Cleveland Indians that lifted Latos to 5-0. Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Mat Latos: Reds’ Secret Weapon


CINCINNATI–It is counterintuitive that despite his flashy looks and his outstanding mound performance, pitcher Mat Latos seems to be traveling under radar.

Think Chris Andersen, the Illustrated Man of the Miami Heat with an extreme mohawk and then dial it down a little bit, and you’ve got Latos. He has many tattoos, some extra-large, but he doesn’t play his sport in a sleeveless shirt as Anderson does. He has a blond mohawk hairstyle, but he wears a baseball cap over it.

Otherwise there would be more extreme photos out there more often of Latos. This is not to suggest that Latos is not a serious guy. He is very serious about his pitching. Tuesday afternoon in the hours leading up to his Cincinnati Reds facing the Cleveland Indians at the Great American Ball Park, Latos sat by his locker in the clubhouse, unapproachable, of course, before a start.

The surprise was that he was out in a quasi-public setting at all as teammates dressed, talked to sportswriters, and many people flitted around the large room. It was not a place for quiet reflection. Yet for all anyone could tell, that’s what Latos was doing.

A number of hours later Latos reflected on his evening of work. The right-hander pitched 6 1/3 innings, gave up five hits and one run, walked four and struck out seven. The 8-2 decision gave Latos a 5-0 record on the season with a 3.01 earned run average.

Latos is an anchor in the Cincinnati rotation. He hardly ever gets rocked. And that’s not just a general impression. During the game against the Indians a statistic flashed on the videoboard for fans. It stated that of all pitchers who had made at least 10 starts at Great American Latos had the second-best ERA. Latos, who has made 25 starts in the park, including two when he was pitching for San Diego, concluded the night with a lifetime stadium ERA of 3.04, just behind St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter at 3.03.

The most interesting part of reviewing that little anecdote was that Latos had no idea of its verity. His first comment was on the order of, Really? Are you sure that wasn’t a typo?

“This ballpark and I haven’t always gotten along,” Latos said.

That was a truer reading of Latos emotion about his play at the Reds home stadium than the numbers. Great American Ball Park is known as a hitter’s park, where a lot of home runs fly away. Latos was traded to the Reds before last season and he could have dreaded the switch from the Padres. After this game he reviewed his Padres experience.

“You know, I had two starts here with San Diego and I only gave up two runs,” Latos said.

Latos might have stuck around longer against the Indians, except for a brief hint of vulnerability in the seventh inning. The score was 3-1 Reds and after the first out Latos walked Ryan Raburn, pinch-hitting.

With top Indians hitter Michael Bourn on-deck, Reds manager Dusty Baker came to the mound for a chat. Baker said later that he hadn’t decided to lift Latos.

“I like to look in a guy’s eyes and see whether he has confidence,” Baker said, “or see if he has fear. I really didn’t want to take him out.”

Baker must have read the right message in Latos’ pupils because he left him in the game. However, Latos walked Bourn and came out that one batter later. Relievers took over, the Reds rallied for more runs, and won going away.

“I’ll take it,” Latos said.

What Latos can’t figure out is how he is nearly the all-time ace of Great American Ball Park, but he’ll take that too, even if he is skeptical.

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