Latos shows room for growth in loss
Padres starter battles frustration as offense sputters
SAN DIEGO -- The blood was boiling early on Thursday, so much so that Darren Balsley had no problem detecting the fury all the way from his perch atop the home dugout steps.
Four batters into the game and Balsley, the Padres' pitching coach, bolted from the steps to the mound to visit starting pitcher Mat Latos, though the conversation was not steered toward mechanics or how to attack specific hitters.
It was, simply, about keeping cool.
"I told him that just because someone went deep or someone scored, you have to leave it in the past," Balsley said, recalling his short talk with Latos. "It's something that he has gotten better about in the past year."
It's hard to forget, of course, that Latos, who came up on the losing end of the Padres' 6-2 loss to the Braves at PETCO Park, is still 22 and that this start was his 12th at this level and that, occasionally, he gets frustrated with himself and needs to vent.
"It's just part of the maturing process," Balsley said.
Latos was steamed, though not demonstrative by any means, over a few close calls in the first inning that didn't go his way. Specifically, a 2-2 slider he threw to Martin Prado, the second hitter of the game, that missed, though not by much in his eyes.
Prado, on the seventh pitch of an exhausting at-bat, hit the next pitch over the wall in left field for a home run. Two batters later, Latos walked Brian McCann on six pitches. That brought Balsley from the dugout.
"I kind of frustrated myself with a couple of pitches thrown in the first inning. I let that affect me a little," Latos said. "I started overthrowing. I let a few calls get ahold of me."
Latos' frustration resulted in command issues, especially with keeping his mid-90s fastball in the strike zone and, subsequently, a 50-pitch first inning that the right-hander followed with a 20-pitch second inning.
At that point, Latos and the Padres (3-5) trailed 1-0, though it was evident he wouldn't be able to work deeper into the game because of a rising pitch count.
"They've got a very good lineup and at times are very aggressive, and at other times, they work the count," Padres manager Bud Black said of the Braves, who have experience in their lineup with Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Brian McCann.
"His [Latos] fastball command was a little erratic. He couldn't make consecutive pitches in the first two innings."
To his credit, Latos got better. He worked a 1-2-3 third inning. He allowed a run in the fourth inning on the first of two RBI doubles by 20-year-old Jason Heyward. Finally in the fifth inning, he left after a McCann RBI double made it 3-0.
After the game, Latos, speaking softly with a hint of reticence, acknowledged that, as a young pitcher, he has to do a better job of managing his emotions. Players and coaches around him recognize he's done a better job of just that.
But, for now, it will be a test for him, a challenge.
"I'm better than that," he said. "I think this year, you won't see that out of me a lot."
On the other side, Braves pitcher Tim Hudson (1-0) also missed on a few close calls. He walked five and didn't record a strikeout for just the sixth time in his career. He allowed two runs over 5 2/3 innings before turning it over to his bullpen.
The Padres, who scored 17 runs in the home opener on Monday, finished with a thud in the last two games, scoring just three runs. Only this time, it wasn't a preponderance of strikeouts, their Achilles heel in this young season, which did them in.
There was only one hit with a runner in scoring position -- a two-out, RBI single to left field by leadoff hitter Everth Cabrera that allowed 42-year-old Matt Stairs to score a run in the sixth inning. The other run was Will Venable's leadoff home run in the sixth.
The Padres stranded nine baserunners.
The Braves (5-4) broke the game open by scoring three runs in the eighth inning, all of them charged to reliever Mike Adams, the Padres' eighth-inning specialist, who allowed three earned runs in 37 innings a year ago.
"I'm not as polished as I would like to be," said Adams, something Latos could surely relate to.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.