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07/08/10 11:32 PM ET

Latos goes deep, shuts down Nationals

Ace tosses seven scoreless frames; Padres rip four HRs

WASHINGTON -- In need of a big performance against the Nationals on Thursday night, the Padres got it in more ways than one from right-hander Mat Latos.

The 22-year-old threw seven scoreless innings of five-hit baseball as San Diego defeated Washington, 7-1, at Nationals Park. He also contributed with his bat, going 2-for-3 including his first career home run to left field in the fourth.

"Instead of just nitpicking for the corners, I went after hitters," Latos said. "I was just letting them try to make contact early in the count. I made a good pitch, their guys got contact and I got ground-ball outs."

Latos (10-4) threw all of his pitches effectively to silence the Nationals' lineup. His only real trouble came in the seventh, when Washington loaded the bases on three singles. But even under those tough circumstances, Latos calmly threw a slider that induced Nyjer Morgan to ground out and end the inning.

Latos said he was glad manager Bud Black had the confidence to keep him in the game at that point.

"Buddy being a former pitcher, he knows when something is up," Latos said. "He'll get you out of the game quick if he sees something. It was good to get out there. I felt like I got Nyjer all game and I figured, 'You know what? I can go out and make two good pitches or three good pitches and get him out.'"

Morgan, who finished 0-for-4, came away impressed with what Latos had to offer.

"He had a lot of movement -- good slurve, slider pitch, or curve, whatever it was," Morgan said. "He was mixing his changeup and he had pretty good movement tonight. You could see that kid's got something special."

But his stellar performance was nothing new for the Padres. Latos has recently been one of the most dominant pitchers in the Majors, as he is 5-0 in his last six starts and has allowed only five runs in that span. This season, he has the best opponent batting average (.193) in baseball.

Black said Latos has worked hard to get to this point, and it's showing.

"We've seen a lot of that out of Mat in the last six weeks," Black said. "We're seeing a pitcher develop. As he moved into May, [pitching coach] Darren [Balsley] encouraged more use of the curveball. Now he has a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup as part of his mix. He uses them all very effectively."

And while Latos' pitching was the highlight of the night, the Padres' offense wasn't too shabby, either.

San Diego scored the game's initial run in the first. With one out, Chase Headley doubled to center off right-hander Luis Atilano. After Adrian Gonzalez was intentionally walked, Scott Hairston singled to left to load the bases. Yorvit Torrealba followed with an RBI single to left for a 1-0 lead.

In the fourth with one out, Chris Denorfia hit his second home run in as many games to left off Atilano. Two batters later, Latos drove the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats for a 3-0 lead.

"It was good," Latos said of his home run. "He threw me four sliders and struck me out [earlier in the game]. I just felt like, 'Hey, I don't think he's going to throw me another slider here. He might try to get one over. If he does, I'm going to swing at it.' He gave me something to hit and I made contact."

The Padres continued their stellar night in the sixth. Torrealba and Aaron Cunningham began the inning with singles off Atilano and Miguel Batista, respectively. Denorfia hit into a run-scoring fielder's choice to put San Diego ahead by four runs.

In the seventh, Headley added a two-run homer to right off Batista to make it 6-0. Jerry Hairston's ninth-inning solo home run put the game well out of reach.

Headley finished 3-for-5 and just a triple short of the cycle.

But while the Padres' hitters came through, Headley said the game was won from the mound.

"He's been doing that for the last three months," Headley said of Latos. "He's been terrific, as good as any pitcher I've seen out there in the game. We always knew his stuff was there.

"It was always just about keeping him calm and pushing forward. He's done a great job for us."

Greg Rosenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.