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MIL@CIN: Latos strikes out 13 in complete-game gem

CINCINNATI -- A few years ago when he was Reds general manager, Dan O'Brien once enthusiastically referred to one of his pitchers as a "strike-throwing deluxe."

Now the Brewers assistant GM, O'Brien was in attendance Monday at Great American Ball Park as his current team played his former one. One could wonder how he would have described Mat Latos. What's more superlative than deluxe?

In a 3-1 Reds win over the Brewers, where he pitched the second complete game of his career, Latos had an embarrassment of riches when it came to strikes. He racked up a career-high 13 strikeouts and threw 80 of his 109 pitches for strikes while allowing one run and four hits with two walks.

"Strike one, period," Latos said of his efforts to have good command. "Strike one, strike one, strike one. If I throw strike one and they want to beat it in the dirt or hit a lazy fly ball, that's fine for the first pitch."

Latos, whose other complete game came on May 13, 2010, while with the Padres, certainly succeeded at getting strike one. He achieved first-pitch strikes to 27 of his 33 batters.

At one point from the top of the first inning until Aramis Ramirez batted in the top of the fourth, Latos threw 24 consecutive strikes.

"That's incredible," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I know he's been struggling a little bit recently, but he threw a great game. The ball-strike ratio was outstanding."

And while he was at it, Latos also tied a career best with two hits at the plate.

"It was awesome. He actually didn't need us," said right fielder Jay Bruce, who gave the Reds a 2-0 lead with a two-run double off of the left-field wall in the fourth inning. "He got a couple hits, pitched the whole game. He did a great job and that's what we knew was in there. He pulled it out tonight and carried us to the win."

Latos survived a rocky first inning when leadoff batter Norichika Aoki walked and Nyjer Morgan bunted for a single. But Ryan Braun went down on strikes, the first strikeout of the night for Latos as he went on to retire 13 batters in a row. Another bunt single, this time by Martin Maldonado in the fifth, broke the streak.

Milwaukee's first hit out of the infield didn't come until Aoki led off the sixth with a home run to right field on a 2-1 Latos pitch. He went on to retire the side in order, with two more strikeouts.

In the seventh, Rickie Weeks hit a one-out double that landed on the right-field line. Strikeout No. 11 of the night followed against Maldonado, which triggered a free pizza and ice cream giveaway that had 34,485 fans roaring with approval.

Pinch-hitter George Kottaras drew a four-pitch walk with two outs, but Latos escaped unscathed with a Cody Ransom groundout and pumped his fist while walking off of the mound.

"Weeks hit that double and just caught chalk. That's a back breaker," Latos said. "To get out of that inning and not give up a run, that was big."

Latos notched a 1-2-3 top of the eighth inning and was at 98 pitches. Closer Aroldis Chapman, who blew Sunday's save against the Twins by giving up a two-run homer in the ninth, warmed up in the bullpen while the Reds batted in the bottom of the eighth. But there was no discussion of taking Latos out.

"I came in and nobody said anything to me" Latos said. "Everybody stayed away, so I had to get ready for the ninth. If Dusty [Baker] would have pulled me, he would have pulled me."

Once Brandon Phillips laced an RBI double to center field that scored Drew Stubbs with a big insurance run, there seemed to be no question as to who would get the ball.

"His pitch count was still relatively low," said Baker, who decided to lift Mike Leake after eight innings for Chapman on Sunday. "In past games, he's had that many pitches in five or six innings. He was getting ahead of the guys."

In the ninth, Latos struck out Maldonado with his 109th pitch and pounded his glove with excitement before shaking hands with catcher Ryan Hanigan. The Reds increased their National League Central lead to two games over the Pirates.

"It was a great ballgame," Baker said. "Hopefully now he can get on a roll and stay on it for a while."

Without a loss since April 18, Latos has won six straight decisions. But that belies the up and down season he's had while going 6-2 with a 4.77 ERA. His previous start at Cleveland is an example of a one-step backwards experience, as he lasted only four innings while giving up seven runs and blowing three different leads.

On Monday, it was certainly two-steps forward.

"It's an amazing feeling to finally do something good after the trade," Latos said.

The trade is the big one Latos has tried his hardest, sometimes too hard, to live up to. Cincinnati acquired him in December for Edinson Volquez and three prime prospects. This was a glimpse of why the Reds felt comfortable with making that deal.

"That was easily his best performance," Baker said. "He had 13 strikeouts. Everybody got free pizza and ice cream. Man, he was dealing. He was awesome. He had a great slider going. He located his fastball well. Hanigan directed him through the game. He got two hits and a complete game. That's exactly what the doctor ordered right there."

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