Chipper Jones sees a Mat Latos who is less aggressive than the Mat Latos who pitched against the Braves twice in 2009 and once last year. The Braves cuffed Latos today, scoring six runs, five of which were unearned because of first baseman's Brad Hawpe's fielding error. Jones knew that Latos began the season on the disabled list. He also studied videotape of the right-hander's recent games. When I asked him about Latos' performance today, the likely Hall of Famer had a lot to say:
"It's tough, coming out of spring training hurt," Jones said. "You kind of get your legs back under you a little bit. Whether it's location or pitch selection, I don't know. I know this: The guy throws 94, 95, 96 miles per hour, and he's not throwing it. He's throwing a lot of breaking balls, a lot of changeups, a lot of sliders.
"What did make him so dominant in the past against us was the fact that he could go out there and dot 95 miles per hour on either side of the plate, and you had to respect it. And that made his offspeed stuff that much more effective. He's got plus offspeed stuff, but if you're going up there, seeing five or six pitches, and you know you're going to see three or four breaking balls, guys are going to start sitting on it."
Jones didn't see many fastballs from Latos today that reminded him of Latos in 2009-10.
"I've seen him on tape this year throwing 95, 96," he said. "The thing about it is, just like guys at the plate, pitchers get confidence problems too. They get 95, 96 wacked a couple of times, then they're going to shy away from going to it. Not saying that that's his mindset. I'm just telling you what I see from afar."
Latos is going through a stretch that would test the psyche of many pitchers. In his previous start, he allowed two home runs to the Phillies that went 400 feet at Petco Park. At that point, the 23-year-old had seen five home runs against him in only 14 innings this year, including two home runs off fastballs at Petco.
How did he respond against the Phillies? He walked five hitters in the next three-plus innings, which was a career-high total for him. Entering today, he was 0-8 with a 7.72 ERA in eight starts dating to September. His ERA went down today, but the nine-game losing streak ties Andy Benes and Dennis Rasmussen for the club record. Both of those pitchers had a lot of success in their careers. Latos should rally, provided his arm is healthy. He might be going through dead arm phase. But his slow start will increase speculation that he's paying a price for having thrown more innings last year than the Padres had planned for him. The team used the disabled list to rest him last summer. But after he returned, the Padres red-lined him as part of their attempt to win the National League West.