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Latos nearly perfect as Padres sweep

Latos nearly perfect as Padres sweep

SAN FRANCISCO -- Six days ago, Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley and manager Bud Black had a pointed and honest discussion in the dugout in Houston about whether to send Mat Latos to the mound with him needing three outs for his first shutout.

Balsley and Black agreed that no matter how badly they wanted the 22-year-old to get a shutout, the smarter move was to turn the ball over to the bullpen given how many pitches he had thrown (107) and how much stress the Astros had already put on him.

Latos, they felt, would eventually get another shot at a shutout.

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"We knew he'd get the chance," Balsley said. "But we didn't know it would be five days later."

Latos, in his 17th Major League start, got his first shutout and, better still, carried a perfect game into the sixth inning before settling for a one-hitter, as the Padres completed a sweep of the Giants with a 1-0 victory at AT&T Park.

"I just go out there and do my best. That's all I can do," said the soft-spoken Latos after the game. "Everything came together today."

Latos (3-3) needed 106 pitches to dispense with the Giants on a sun-splashed day where the spotlight focused on the powerful right arm -- and, for a time, the bat -- of the second-year pitcher who, the Padres (22-12) believe, is just beginning to touch greatness.

"He's maturing mentally and physically and he's learning how to make pitches when he needs to," Balsley said. "I think his preparation has gotten better. He's learning. I think early in the season, he got his tail kicked a few times. He's learned from that."

Latos retired the first 15 hitters he faced before Giants catcher Eli Whiteside started the sixth inning by bouncing a ball up the middle that hit Latos at the point where wrist and glove meet. The ball then bounced over to third baseman Chase Headley, who threw just late to first base.

"It looked from my vantage point he [first-base umpire Bruce Dreckman] got the right call," Headley said.

Looking undeterred by his brush with potential greatness and history -- the Padres still don't have a no-hitter in franchise history -- Latos kept on dealing away like nothing happened.

"He was unfazed," Black said.

Latos, who once professed something akin to a love affair with the strikeout, not unlike other young power pitchers, used his fastball, sinker and secondary pitches to get these Giants (18-15) to jump on balls early in the count, perhaps out of frustration for a series that got away from them.

"It felt like their guys were in the right position every single time. It was like they knew it was coming," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "You have to credit their scouts, I guess, or somebody."

How about Latos?

Latos struck out Pablo Sandoval twice, both on sinkers that had considerable late action away from the left-handed-hitting third baseman, including the one in the seventh inning that left Sandoval looking perplexed.

"Those balls were really on the move," Padres catcher Nick Hundley said.

Then, along the way toward forcing Black and Balsley into another decision about the ninth inning and a potential shutout, Latos got stronger. In the eighth inning, he hit 95 mph a few times in the inning, getting Juan Uribe on a popup to Hundley before John Bowker and Whiteside hit ground balls for outs to end the inning.

"I thought his stuff was the best in the eighth. I noticed it catching, it was like, 'wow,'" Hundley said.

As is the case in games like this, there were a handful of nice defensive plays made behind Latos, though he didn't need much help. He didn't walk a batter and had six strikeouts in the game. He got 10 ground-ball outs and nine fly-ball outs.

That made Black's decision to stay with Latos much easier.

"I think there is at least one time in a game where a starting pitcher will have to buckle down," Black said, sounding surprised that Latos avoided any such stressful occasion in the game.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez made a nice backhand stab of a Huff ball down the line to end the seventh inning. In the eighth inning, Headley speared a line drive off the bat off Matt Downs for the first out.

"Just see it and hit it. He showed early in the game that he was going to come out and throw strikes," Whiteside said of his approach against Latos.

Latos knocked in the only run of the game for the Padres, lining an opposite-field single into right field in the fifth inning to score rookie Lance Zawadzki. The run was certainly welcomed considering Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez (2-3) was also dealing away like Latos was.

Sanchez, of course, tossed a no-hitter against the Padres on July 10, 2009, at AT&T Park. He allowed one run on three hits with five strikeouts in eight innings. But the limelight, on this day, fell squarely on Latos' shoulders.

"He pitched brilliant in his last start and followed it up with another gem. ... That's the only way I can describe it," Black said.

Latos, who began last season pitching for low Class A Fort Wayne, showed occasional flashes of dominant stuff late last season with the Padres. After a few rough patches this season, he appears to be finding his way.

Latos has retired 55 of the last 58 hitters he's faced over his last three starts. The Padres feel the best is yet to come from a player who was taken in the 11th round of the 2006 Draft by scout Joe Bochy, who happens to be the brother of Giants manager and former Padres manager Bruce Bochy.

"No way," Huff said. "Baseball's so weird, isn't it?"

Maybe about as weird as the fact that these two pitchers, Latos and Sanchez, will face each other again in five days at PETCO Park.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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