CINCINNATI -- Mat Latos wasn't about to let his best start of this short season -- and first win as a Red -- get away from him. Not without a big fight.
The Reds coasted to a 9-2 victory over the Giants on Tuesday, but things were plenty tense during a long sixth inning. Clinging to a 2-0 lead with two outs, Latos had been very strong up to that point. But before he knew it, he was battling through a 37-pitch inning and had a two-out, bases-loaded rally on his hands.
But Latos threw a 2-1 fastball to Nate Schierholtz and got a routine grounder to Brandon Phillips, who stepped on second base for the third out. The right-hander was pumped as he returned to the dugout.
"I can be emotional sometimes," Latos said. "I was excited to get out of that inning without giving up a run. It was a 2-0 ballgame at that point. That's a big inning. I get out of that and everybody can exhale. I just wanted to let it all out. I was fired up to get that out."
In his fourth start of the season, Latos pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed four hits and two walks with three strikeouts. He did not give up an extra-base hit during the game and threw 95 pitches.
Of the 26 batters Latos faced, 19 received first-pitch strikes."He was hitting all of his spots and looked real good today. I was very proud of him," Phillips said.
It was Phillips who gave Latos his 2-0 lead with two outs in the first inning, when he smashed a Matt Cain 2-2 pitch over the fence in center field for a two-run homer.
Cain had taken a streak of 18 scoreless innings into the night. Following a Jay Bruce walk in the bottom of the first, during which he needed 38 pitches, he recovered to retire 14 of his next 15 batters and kept the game tight.
"It was taxing on the pitch count, but physically I felt fine," Cain said. "It didn't bother me. That's why we do stuff in between starts."
Cain worked into the seventh, when Ryan Ludwick led off and lifted a 2-1 pitch for a towering solo homer that landed in the left-field seats. Dan Otero took over with one out and, upon hitting Joey Votto with a two-out pitch, worked himself into a bases-loaded situation that led to six runs. Phillips drew a four-pitch walk before Bruce and Scott Rolen each ripped line drives for a pair of two-run doubles.
Latos left a runner on third base in the first inning and a runner on second base in the third. His lone baserunner in the fifth inning was erased by a double play, and he had only 48 pitches through the first five innings.
In the sixth, Melky Cabrera rolled a two-out single into right field. And in a pair of lengthy plate appearances, Pablo Sandoval worked a walk on nine pitches, with some close calls, and Buster Posey just missed hitting a three-run homer when his drive to left field hooked foul. He walked on a 10th pitch.
Once he got Schierholtz, though, Latos returned with a 1-2-3 top of the seventh inning.
"I had a couple of quick innings, back to back to back, throwing 10-12 pitches and getting into a good rhythm," said Latos, who came in with a 2.64 career ERA over nine games vs. the Giants. "Then to dump out 35 pitches later in a ballgame, it will take its toll on you. You just have to regain focus and go back after it and say, 'Here's the No. 1, hit it.'"That was exactly the mentality the Reds wanted from Latos after he had three lackluster starts. In his previous outing at St. Louis, he was clobbered for eight runs and nine hits over 5 2/3 innings. "After his last start, he told me, 'Skip, that's not going to happen again.' He is a man of his word," said Reds manager Dusty Baker, whose team has won four of its last five. Reds fans are still getting to know Latos, who came over in a major winter trade that sent Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso and two prospects to the Padres. Latos, now 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA, realizes the responsibility that comes with being the key figure of the deal, but he tries not to let it consume him. "Who's to say I am worth four players? But who is to say that I am not?" Latos said. "Just to look back at the trade, you say, 'Wow, I just got traded for four guys.' Obviously I meant a lot to them. It's a blessing to have it happen.
"It's always in the back of your mind thinking about, 'If I come here and I don't perform, then I'm going to have a long season ahead of me.' It just goes back to not being too perfect, trying to execute my pitches and giving it all I've got."