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CIN@SD: Latos fans seven over six frames of work

SAN DIEGO -- They lost a game on Monday, though the Padres might have found something much more important to their success on a cool night in April in front of a tepid crowd.

The Padres found their ace.

Or, more accurately, the Padres rediscovered their ace, pitcher Mat Latos. Latos, who began the season on the disabled list, made a notable return to the rotation with six solid innings in a 3-2 loss to the Reds before a crowd of 18,022.

Latos, who hadn't pitched in a game of any sort since a March 21 Spring Training exhibition due to bursitis in his shoulder, allowed two homers that accounted for all of the Reds' runs, though he also struck out seven and allowed four hits.

It was a loss for Latos (0-1) and the Padres (4-5), although the tone in the voice of the 23-year-old wasn't one of resignation. Instead, after a myriad of command issues during six weeks of Spring Training in Arizona, his voice held hope and optimism.

"I can't complain about anything," Latos said. "I didn't want a repeat of Spring Training. I kept the ball down in the zone and worked ahead. Everything felt fine.

"It was great to compete again."

Latos walked a batter and hit another in the first inning but also struck out two. If there were any concerns on his velocity, they were vanquished early, as he hit 96 mph during a sequence of pitches to Brandon Phillips that also included an 82-mph changeup for a swinging strike.

"He didn't look like he was hurt to me," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Boy, he was 94-95 with a good breaker and occasional changeup. He kind of carries himself like he knows he can pitch. You see what he does."

Staked to a 2-0 lead after the Padres scored twice in the first inning, Latos retired nine of the first 11 batters he faced, five on strikeouts. With one out in the fourth inning, Jonny Gomes got a hold of a 75-mph curveball up in the zone, sending it into the first deck of the Western Metal building in left field.

One inning later, and after walking the Reds' No. 8 hitter, shortstop Paul Janish, Latos was hurt again by the long ball, leaving a two-seam fastball up in the strike zone that Chris Heisey hit over the fence in left for a 3-2 advantage.

"The first couple of innings, he was 96 mph and it had some really good life on it. I don't know if he got tired or what exactly. His velocity was down and I got a fastball up and in and was able to get the barrel of the bat on it," Heisey said.

San Diego manager Bud Black, who said in the days leading up to Latos' start that he was expecting good things from the 14-game winner from a year ago, wasn't disappointed in what he saw Monday.

"His stuff was good, [good] velocity, there was crispness to his breaking stuff. I thought he threw the ball well," Black said of Latos, who threw 94 pitches, 58 for strikes. "From the time he got here today, he was pretty locked in."

San Diego pitching coach Darren Balsley liked Latos' ability to command his fastball, a sign that the youngest member of his rotation will be fine moving forward.

"When he throws his fastball where he wants, it's a good sign," Balsley said.

For a time, it appeared the Padres would make a winner of Latos in his first start, as they put the first four hitters of the game on against Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez (2-0). Will Venable, who had two hits, singled, as did Orlando Hudson.

Volquez then walked Chase Headley to load the bases before plunking Ryan Ludwick to force in a run. Brad Hawpe then sent a low liner into center field that Heisey caught on a diving attempt, and Hudson scored from third base on a sacrifice fly.

But while it appeared Volquez was teetering early, he righted himself and completed six innings, retiring 11 consecutive batters at one point.

"We've seen that before from him. We saw some 97-mph fastballs, breaking balls and he located the ball well and kept it down in the strike zone," Black said. "... We had trouble getting the ball up the air."

The Padres got a leadoff double in the eighth inning from shortstop Alberto Gonzalez -- who filled in for the second time in as many days for Jason Bartlett, who is getting close to playing after being sidelined with a tight back.

Pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia, charged with moving Gonzalez to third base on a bunt, got the bunt down but it wasn't far enough from catcher Ramon Hernandez, who picked up the ball and fired to third base to get Gonzalez.

Television replays showed that Gonzalez beat the tag.

"From my vantage point, it looked like a close play," Black said.

Then in the ninth inning, Hudson singled but the Padres couldn't get him to second base. He couldn't get there himself, as Hernandez threw him out trying to steal.

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