A precarious situation faced Mat Latos and the White Sox on Sunday afternoon. The Texas Rangers had runners on first and third with one out, and their lineup about to turn back over to the top of the order. Up two, manager Robin Ventura decided to keep the 28-year-old Latos in the game instead of turning to reliever Zach Duke.
Rangers left fielder Ryan Rua hit a smash up the middle that Latos snared and fired to second, where shortstop Tyler Saladino was waiting to sling the ball over to first base for an inning-ending double play. Latos exited with a massive fist pump, capping another strong outing for the right-hander the White Sox signed to a one-year, $3 million deal before spring training.
Latos has won all four starts he’s made this season and has a sparkling 0.74 ERA. Opponents have a .167 batting average on balls in play against him, which isn’t sustainable. He’s stranded 97 percent of the baserunners that’ve reached against him; Zack Greinke led the major leagues with an 86.5 percent strand rate in 2015. Eventually, more runners will get on base, and more of them will come around to score.
But after dealing with a rash of injuries over the last two seasons, Latos has pitched impressively from the back end of the White Sox rotation.
“Next time he starts there’s going to be some guys on, too,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “So it’s just a matter of making your pitch at the moment you need it, and he did that today.
From a results perspective, Latos’ spring was a disaster. He allowed 16 runs (15 earned) in 13 innings with nine strikeouts, six walks and two home runs. But sometimes, things click when the games start mattering.
“Spring Training and the season are two different things, or at least it’s the way I look at it,” Latos said. “I’ve said time and time again it only takes one pitch, one bullpen session, for everything just to click. (Pitching coach) Don Cooper and I put a plan together every time I grab a baseball. Every day I pick a baseball up, he has a plan for me.
“And you take that to heart. You want to make it work. We’ve incorporated everything we did in Spring Training and still what we are doing now into every game and everything has been clicking. I’ve been grateful and fortunate. Offense has picked me up, swung the bat really well on days that I’ve pitched. I’ve been able to keep zeroes on the board, and the defense has shown up behind me.”
Latos allowed one run in six innings against Texas, and his ERA actually went up because of it, from 0.49 to 0.74. His fastball, according to FanGraphs, is averaging 89.5 miles per hour, easily the lowest velocity of his career.
But as long as he’s hitting his spots with it and changing speeds, he’s shown early on he can consistently get outs. A strong rapport with Navarro has given Latos a boost, too.
“There are times where I’ve been on the mound and I’m looking at him going, 'Why are we throwing this pitch right here?'” Latos said. “But I’m still throwing it and still getting outs. I don’t want to say questioning him. But it’s more of the situation, maybe I would have gone something different but it’s still getting outs. That to me shows a guy who really knows how to call the game.”
The word Ventura used over and over again when talking about Latos was confidence. Not only is Latos pitching with confidence, the team has confidence in him, and he has confidence in the defense behind him.
And as long as Latos keeps opposing offenses off the board, that confidence won’t go away.
“This guy is confident right now in being able to throw strikes and put it where he wants to,” Ventura said. “If you can get guys swinging and not really getting good looks at you, the one that he gave up, that’s the one that’ll get you every once in a while. But for the most part, he’s not giving people good looks.”