Blue Jays turn to veteran Latos in time of need

RHP Mat Latos, shown here pitching for the Blue Jays this spring at Sarasota, will pitch for triple-A Buffalo. He hopes to be the first starter the  Jays call on if the need arises. Photo: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports.

RHP Mat Latos, shown here pitching for the Blue Jays this spring at Sarasota, will pitch for triple-A Buffalo. He hopes to be the first starter the  Jays call on if the need arises. Photo: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports.

By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network

BUFFALO, New York – Mat Latos hit a learning curve early in his career. 

The 29-year-old right-hander admits that he made some mistakes, vocalized some things that were on his mind that perhaps should have stayed there, and left a less-than-desirable impression on some of his stops along his way. 

He makes no apologies for not being cut from the same cloth as many of his colleagues, but Latos does have some regret for the way he approached and handled certain situations that he has since learned from and hopes never to duplicate. 

“I came up young,” he said. “Young and dumb. I dug some of my own holes that I have to lay in, but at the end of the day – I’m trying to think of a better way to say I don’t bullshit – I just don’t have a filter from my brain to my mouth sometimes, which in this business, it’s not a good thing. You have to be cookie cutter, and I’ve never been that type of person. 

“So it is what it is, and people are going to make their assumptions and you can’t please [them all]. You’re going to do some things that are going to piss some people of, and make other people happy, but at the end of every day I’ve always been me, regardless of what the outcome was or how anybody took it. There are things that I wish I would have done differently, but you learn from it and just kind of move on.” 

While speaking his mind allowed Latos some semblance of freedom, continuing to be himself in a place where he felt like that wasn’t what was asked of him, it did get him into trouble. Onto his eighth different organization in the last eight years when he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays during the off-season, outsiders might point to the perceived attitude of the righty to explain the movement.

He doesn’t really care what anyone says, however, and while logistically he’s had to make several adjustments in his life, Latos feels fortunate. A true baseball enthusiast, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound hurler appreciates he fact that he’s been able to play with some of the game’s best, learning from them, seeing firsthand what they offer to baseball, and sharing a field with them. 

Latos loves talking baseball, getting into the heads of other hurlers and hitters to help shape the way he looks at the game, and travelling from team to team just gave him a chance to do more of that, and new audiences to do it with.

“It sucks but it doesn’t suck,” Latos said. “You get to meet a lot of new guys. At the end of it, I got to play with [Jake] Peavy for a little bit, Adrian Gonzalez, I got to play with Joey Votto, [Johnny] Cueto – we were locker mates – [Stephen] Strasburg, Jose [Fernandez], [Giancarlo] Stanton, [Dee] Gordon and all those guys, so I got to play with a lot of guys over the past eight years of my career. 

“In a sense, it’s almost nice because you get familiar with those guys and you get to know them a little bit and it helps you down the road … But it kind of sucks. I mean, you’ve got to get used to getting to know people. But that’s baseball. Nowadays, you don’t see a lot of guys who stick with one team for their whole entire career.” 

Latos hasn’t stuck with one team since he was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 11th round in 2006, made it to the big leagues with the club three years later at 21 years old, and spent three seasons in the majors on the west coast before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization. 

While his three seasons with the Reds have since been tainted by off-field commentary and some misunderstood moments that turned into what were deemed to be behavioural issues, the righty couldn’t be more appreciative for the time he had at the Great American Ball Park, with the squad that helped him become who he needed to be on the mound. 

“I’ve definitely evolved as a pitcher,” Latos said. “I had to when I got to Cincinnati. I’ve always said it, time and time again, I’ve been real grateful and real thankful that I got to pitch in Cincinnati and play my time in Cincinnati. No matter what happened in Cincinnati or what was said, at the end of the day, I learned that I had to learn how to pitch and not just throw. 

“San Diego was a big ball park, and I took advantage of that and just really reared back and tried to throw everything as hard as I could. In Cincinnati, I learned real quick that you couldn’t do that. You have to learn how to pitch. So I’m grateful for the time I had in Cincinnati, and I’ve evolved a lot, as far as mixing pitches and learning new pitches.”

From the time he began to play professionally to now, Latos has gone from being a fastball-curveball guy with the occasional slider, to throwing a combination of his fastball, cutter, slider, and a changeup, with fewer curveballs. Because of a slight drop in velocity with age – FanGraphs clocking his average fastball at 3.3 miles per hour slower last year than in his rookie season – he has placed an emphasis on developing the changeup that he started working on with advice from a future Hall of Fame reliever.  

“I didn’t think I needed it,” Latos said. “That might have been just me. But I mean, I could never really learn to throw a changeup. Then what really got me was that after I got traded – makes a lot of sense, right? – from San Diego, I started talking with Trevor Hoffman, who has one of the best changeups in the game. He showed me some things, showed me a couple grips and things that I could do here and there. 

“Then I tinkered with it a little bit, but then kind of got off of it because I thought, I’ve got my two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, slider, and the occasional curveball, and I’m putting up the numbers that I was putting up in Cincinnati, why am I going to sit there and try to learn how to get a new pitch? But now I’m at that point where my velocity’s dropped a little bit and I feel like a changeup is something that I really should have. I wish I would have worked on it a lot longer ago.”

The best seasons of the right-hander’s career came with the Reds, for whom he went 33-16 over three seasons with a 3.31 ERA in 81 starts and 522 1/3 innings, accounting for almost half of his total frames in the majors. His career mark is a 3.60, totalling 71 wins over 1138 1/3 innings with 1,001 strikeouts. 

Marked changes have been kryptonite for Latos over the last couple of years, providing a lack of consistency on the hill, followed by a deficiency in success. He’s made mechanical adjustments, moved from one side of the rubber to the other, trying everywhere in-between, and is still working on a way to get back to being the pitcher he once was. 

“When you get something that works you’ve got to just stick to it,” he said. “And that’s been the issue the past couple of seasons, is really not being consistent … Mechanics-wise, having things here and there, wanting to change things here and there, wanting to do this wanting to do that. Or being told this and being told that, and trying to make an adjustment when I really shouldn’t, when I should just get back to where I was and what got me here, what kept me here, and stay there.”
For now, Latos will work on it in Buffalo with Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate. With the option to elect free agency when he wasn’t added to the Blue Jays Opening Day roster, he chose to accept his assignment to the Bisons, finding enjoyment with his teammates and the organization’s staff during spring training, and wanting to fulfill the commitment he made to the people who have treated him well.

“I’m comfortable with these guys,” Latos said. “And at the end of the day, if I didn’t make the roster I wanted to, I was going to do whatever I needed to do. I felt like the best opportunity was to be here. 

“With the coaching staff up in the big leagues and the coaching staff down here, and the way the organization was toward me from Day 1, from the get-go, I feel like – it’s not owed, but – I’m a man of my word. I said that if I needed to go to Buffalo, then I needed to go to Buffalo. Things just didn’t work out the way that we all hoped they would have, so now I’m here.”