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Mat Latos shakes off spring and buys himself time

Six scoreless innings allows White Sox to breathe a little easier when it comes to the back end of the rotation

Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports

I'm starting to think Mat Latos is just here to confound everybody.

His spring training had all the makings of a short-term engagement -- the extended time out of sight, the ineffective Cactus League starts, and unusually direct preseason criticism from his superiors.

"He just needs to improve. There’s a lot to move forward with. He needs to locate and he hasn’t got through it that easy so far. It’s getting close to the end, we have to pick it up.’’

The Sox backed their words with actions, in that they signed Miguel Gonzalez to a minor-league contract after the Orioles cut him. Depth is depth, but circumstances said the Sox acquired it for one rotation spot in particular.

Just when we start thinking his White Sox career might be abandoned like, I dunno, Dave Stieb's was, he goes out and throws six scoreless innings of one-hit ball to outdo Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon, all of whom pitched well enough.

After the game, Ventura sang his praises:

"Just a really nice job, [with] all the lefties he was able to control the inside part of the plate with his fastball, and then the curveball, dropping it in there with that great arm action, he had a tilt on it. … Just a great job of him going out there and letting them hit it."

Watching Latos' start, I'm not exactly sure how he did it. More precisely, it doesn't seem all that sustainable. He did pound the strike zone to avoid unfavorable counts, and he stayed away from the center of it well enough to keep the A's from pouncing on a mere strike-thrower. He made a handful of mistakes over the center of the strike zone, including a couple of elevated curves, but maybe a flimsy Oakland lineup was on the defensive.

The A's weren't the only ones befuddled. PITCHf/x didn't even know what to do with him. The raw data from Brooks had him throwing seven different pitches, and not anywhere near his usual frequencies:

  • 23 changeups
  • 16 splitters
  • 14 cutters
  • 12 curveballs
  • 10 sinkers
  • 9 fastballs
  • 3 sliders

The revision to the data straightened it out, though:

  • 30 sinkers
  • 26 fastballs
  • 11 sliders
  • 10 splitters
  • 7 curves
  • 3 changeups

Basically, PITCHf/x struggled to identify Latos' fastballs the way Jerry couldn't tell shades of black apart:

In both cases, it's easy to understand why. Pertinent to this post, Latos' average fastball was below 90 mph for the first time in his career, so some of his slower sinkers may have resembled his old changeups. That suggests that he's not all the way in game shape, and he admitted as much:

"I'm healthy (now), but I still feel there's more I can do. I still have to strengthen. I wouldn't say I necessarily have 100 percent of my legs under me (yet), but I'm good, I'm healthy, I'm strong and I think it showed today. It's great to turn the page from last year and start off really well."

This start could be an aberration for one reason or another -- because Latos throws harder from here on out, and/or because the rest of his results are nowhere close -- but it's an incredibly useful one for his purposes, as it buys him time to build up his stuff. Had he stumbled out of the gate, it might've forced the Sox to anticipate further failures and line up the next options accordingly.

For the time being, though, we won't have to keep a close eye on box scores from Charlotte. Instead, the only lining up on deck for the Sox is matching Latos with Dioner Navarro:

At the start of spring, Latos said his previous working relationship with Navarro /when he went 14-4 for the Reds was one of the reasons he wanted to sign a one-year, $3 million deal with the Sox. That comfort level helped Thursday.

"I followed him," Latos said. "I can't take credit for something he did. That was all him. I didn't shake him off once. Actually I did, and he kind of looked at me sideways, and (I said), 'OK, whatever you want.' Me being comfortable with it was key."