OAKLAND, Calif. -- Mat Latos is hopeful he’s over a rough two years and is ready to move ahead with his new team.
The White Sox pitcher tapped into some of his past success on Thursday afternoon as he exceeded expectations in his 2016 debut. Latos delivered six scoreless innings and Jose Abreu homered as the White Sox poured it on late in a 6-1 victory over the Oakland A’s in front of 12,577 at the Oakland Coliseum.
Injured the past two seasons and unpopular with some former Cincinnati Reds teammates after he made critical comments, Latos made a strong impression on the White Sox, who at 3-1 are off to their best start since 2005. Though he still feels as if he has more work to accomplish, the right-hander is pleased after he allowed only one hit and walked one against the A’s.
“Last year I had some bad karma from past stuff that was said,” Latos said. “I took it and then get kind of mentally messed up and kind of battling through something that I wasn’t used to with the knee. I’m used to having my legs under me and then really not understanding that I really have to work twice as hard if not more to get back to where I need to be.
“I’m healthy, but I still feel like there’s more I could do. I still have to strengthen. I wouldn’t say I necessarily have 100 percent of my legs under because of that. But I’m good, I’m healthy. I’m strong and I think it shows today. It’s great to turn the page from last year and start off really well.”
Latos’ spring offered few hints of what was to come Thursday.
He built off Friday night’s outing in San Diego, one manager Robin Ventura described as encouraging. But even then, Latos only pitched 4 1/3 innings before he surrendered three earned runs.
Thursday was different.
Six of the first 13 hitters Latos faced hit ground balls as the right-hander kept his pitches down in the zone. Working with a fastball that ranged from 87-91, Latos used his entire arsenal to keep the A’s off balance. Through four hitless innings, Latos didn’t yield any hard-hit balls.
“He did a great job getting ahead, which is the most important thing,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “He mixed his pitches really well. He spotted his fastball really well.
“He’s done it before, he’s been in that situation before. He knows what he has to do. I just try to guide him the best I can.”
Latos gave all credit to Navarro for the way he handled him. When he arrived in camp, Latos said one reason he signed with the White Sox was to once again work with Navarro, whom he briefly played with in Cincinnati in 2012. Latos trusts Navarro and said he only shook him off once during an 88-pitch effort, only to step off the mound and go back to the veteran catcher’s gameplan.
“I had a good pitch, or what I thought was a good pitch,” Latos said. “He kind of paused and kind of tilted his head at me and I stepped off the mound and was like ‘Whatever you want. Ok, boom let’s go.’ Called the pitch and we went after it.”
Latos wouldn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning and even that took a misplayed fly ball by J.B. Shuck (he dropped a foul ball) and a 3-2 single by Chris Coghlan with one out.
Latos, who didn’t complete five innings in any of his three spring training starts, looked as if he could be in trouble in the fifth when he issued a two-out walk to Marcus Semien. But Brett Lawrie made nice diving stop up the middle and flipped in time to second base for the force to get out of the jam.
Lawrie made another diving stop in the sixth inning and Latos rode it to another perfect frame, one of four 1-2-3 three-up, three-downs.
“There are a lot of things you see (in Arizona) that might not happen when you get to the regular season,” Ventura said. “So we didn’t really know. It being for real and being out there, the competitive part came out of him. You just tip your cap to him the way he did it.”
The White Sox offense offered its own belated round of applause.
After they were stymied by Oakland starter Kendall Graveman for five innings, the White Sox finally broke through.
Melky Cabrera, who earlier singled, drew a four-pitch walk to start the sixth inning and Abreu destroyed a 91-mph sinker down the middle, driving it out to right for two-run homer.
The offense came to life in the ninth inning when Avisail Garcia opened with a single against reliever Liam Hendriks. Pinch runner Austin Jackson stole second and moved to third on Lawrie’s bloop single. Navarro ripped an RBI single off the right field wall to make it 3-0. Tyler Saladino and Cabrera also had RBI singles and Abreu’s sac fly made it 6-0.
Adam Eaton also singled in the rally and is 9-for-16 to start the season. Eaton is the first White Sox player to open the season with four straight multi-hit games since Nellie Fox in 1955.