3/20/2013 12:14 P.M. ET
Latos more at ease entering second year with Reds
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- By Mat Latos' estimate, he is 100 percent looser this spring, and free from the burden he felt from the trade.
It has made the Reds pitcher's baseball life all the better.
In 2013, it's no longer about trying to live up to the trade that brought Latos to Cincinnati from San Diego in December 2011. It's what he has accomplished since the transaction that sent top prospects Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger and pitcher Edinson Volquez back to the Padres.
"Who's to say that I'm that good to be traded for four guys? That's what killed me," Latos said. "If I had been traded for one guy, it would have been a lot different. Something like that happens, automatically there's a pressure regardless. You're like, 'Crap, I've got to prove that I'm worth four guys.'"
That feeling is over with this year.
"It's obvious he's a lot more comfortable here than he was this time last year," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said.
Latos, 25, emerged with a very solid first season with Cincinnati as he went 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA in a career-high 33 starts that was also tied for most in the National League. His 209 1/3 innings pitched were also a career best.
It wasn't always a smooth ride, however. A penchant for rough Aprils followed Latos to his new club as he posted a 1-2 record and 5.97 ERA over his first five starts. Lifetime for March and April, he is 2-8 with a 5.73 ERA.
"I'm hoping to resurrect my April," Latos said. "I don't know what it is for me. I should have pitched in the [World Baseball Classic this year]. I would have gotten my April out of the way."
Latos also had moments last season when frustrations got the better of him, whether it was disagreeing with strike calls or, at one point in June, accusing the Indians of stealing signs after being pummeled for seven runs in four innings at Cleveland.
"If you talk about mound presence, he's aware there are times he gets demonstrative on the mound. It never benefits him," Price said. "Never does his situation get better when he becomes temperamental on the mound. He's been a guy that has said to me he wants to improve on how he handles those moments. There's a certain amount of distress. He's working on it. Like all of these guys, it's a work in progress. He's definitely getting better."
Once April was out of the way, Latos was 13-2 with a 3.09 ERA over his final 28 starts. On June 25 and 30, Latos turned in back-to-back complete games. Part of a rotation that had all five pitchers make at least 30 starts, his durability and workhorse mentality stuck out.
Over his final 13 starts, Latos pitched into the eighth inning five times and worked at least seven innings 10 times.
"He became a lot better, particularly when he started pitching a lot deeper into games," Price said. "He had a higher expectation of how long he might be in a game. He really worked to keep himself in the game as long as possible last year."
"Have you ever been the new guy in school? You don't really relax early," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's a new environment, new teammates, but after the first month, we know him and he knows us."
On Feb. 12, the day Cincinnati's pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, Latos avoided arbitration (the first time he was eligible) by signing a two-year, $11.5 million contract. The two sides were not able to come together on a long-term contract.
So Latos does not have complete security, yet. There is one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining when the current deal is done.
"I love the Reds organization, from top to bottom," Latos said. "Yes, it was nice to get a little bit of a breather, but at the same time, if it wouldn't have gotten done, it wouldn't have gotten done. I still would have come here without any resentment toward the front office."
During the offseason, Latos set a goal of improving the one pitch that he felt wasn't up to par in his repertoire -- the changeup. This spring, he sought out the organization's changeup guru, special assistant to the general manager and former Reds ace Mario Soto.
In the past with the Padres, Latos worked on the pitch with Trevor Hoffman, the former closer who had a legendary changeup, but Latos feels the improvement has gone to another level under Soto's tutelage.
"I think the changeup is going to be a really good pitch for me, especially at Great American Ball Park," Latos said. "[Soto] opens the door and sheds light on things that I didn't really understand, and I now understand. I'm able to throw it for strikes. I'm able to throw it behind in the count. I'm able to throw it first pitch or deep in the count."
The pitch was working for Latos in his previous start on Sunday, especially during a brisk first inning where he got three straight grounders softly hit. He has a 2.45 ERA through three spring starts.
"He was very essential," Baker said of Latos' effort last season. "We just want that and more, to just enhance what he's already started."
Fully comfortable, armed with an improved changeup while no longer disarmed by the worries of living up to a trade, there's no reason why Latos can't do just that.