Latos fans 10 as Padres keep NL West lead

Latos fans 10 as Padres keep NL West lead

SAN DIEGO -- We are now at the point of the season where Padres manager Bud Black has apparently exhausted the bevy of superlatives he dips into every five days to describe Mat Latos' body of work.

Latos has been so dominant so often this season that Black on Tuesday simply ran out of glowing things to say about his 22-year-old nascent star, who did more than just tame the Dodgers before a crowd of 20,071 at PETCO Park.

"It's real stuff," Black said after a short pause.

Latos helped the Padres win for the second time in as many days, no small feat following a 10-game losing streak, by striking out 10 and allowing one run in seven innings as San Diego maintained its one-game lead in the National League West with a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers.

Leading the way for the Padres (78-59) was Latos, who improved to 14-5 and lowered his ERA to a 2.21, the best mark in the Major Leagues. Latos tied his career high with the 10 strikeouts, allowing one run on four hits with no walks while throwing a career-high 113 pitches.

All while, keep in mind, pitching important games in a pennant race.

"I love it," Latos said. "I think it's an extra adrenaline kick to us. We wake up every morning and look at it in a day in and day out basis. We're in a pennant race right now. Not very many people, on the broad spectrum, are doing it.

"I'm doing something that I love to do, and we have a chance to go somewhere."

If the Padres are to make it to the postseason, it will be because of starts like the one that Latos had Tuesday. They are impressive to say the least, though they're not entirely all that surprising.

Latos became the first Major League pitcher to allow two or fewer runs in starts of five or more innings in 15 consecutive outings. Latos was tied with Mike Scott (1986) and former Padres pitcher Greg Maddux, who did so twice, in 1999 and again in 2004.

"He's amazing -- he really is," said Padres left fielder Aaron Cunningham, who knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly. "It's fun to play behind him. He works fast, he does a great job. He pounds the strike zone and he does anything and everything you want as a pitcher on your team."

And, even though he'll tell you otherwise and so will his manager, Latos is making it all look easy.

Since May 7, Latos is 13-2 with a 1.58 ERA. Opponents are hitting .191 this season, and he's proving that he's not a one-trick pony, relying on and using his secondary pitches, like a devastating slider and curveball like he did Tuesday, just as much as a mid-90s fastball.

"He had a real good slider and throws in the upper 90s," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Tonight he didn't make many mistakes. We had better luck last time we faced him here. Tonight we had a couple times with runners on base and ground ball back to the mound."

Latos handled three balls hit back to him and was only really pressed in the sixth inning, when he allowed his only run on a two-out RBI single into center field by Rafael Furcal. That hit came after a double by Scott Podsednik.

But Latos got James Loney to tap a ball back to him for the third out. Black then elected to send Latos to the mound in the seventh inning even though he was at 98 pitches. That move paid off as Latos allowed a two-out single to Matt Kemp but then got Ryan Theriot on another comebacker to end the inning.

Latos, who has his start pushed back a day because of the stomach flu he endured on Sunday, appreciated his manager letting him work the seventh inning.

"In certain circumstances earlier in the year, Buddy would come over to me and say to me, 'Hey, this isn't your game, we're going to take you out at 100 pitches,' but he's got that confidence in me later on in the ballgame when we're in a race right now," Latos said.

"He's got that confidence in me to go out there and throw past 100-plus pitches and be able to still get outs and continue to help out this team."

San Diego got runs in the second and third innings off Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw (11-10), who allowed two runs on five hits to go with six strikeouts in seven innings. The first run came on Cunningham's sacrifice fly, the second on an RBI double by All-Star Adrian Gonzalez.

It proved to be just enough offense.

The Dodgers got a leadoff double in the eighth inning by Jamey Carroll off Mike Adams, who was then saved when another pinch-hitter, Jay Gibbons, lined out to center fielder Chris Denorfia, who made a diving catch on a ball slicing away from him.

Black went to his bullpen again, this time for closer Heath Bell. Bell struck out two of the three batters he faced in the inning and then had two more strikeouts in the ninth inning for his 39th save of the season.

"That's not something we would normally do," Black said of Bell's five-out save.

No, but given their recent 10-game losing skid and the proximity of the Giants and the late-charging Rockies in the NL West, there's certainly no sense in taking chances.

Having Latos pitch every fifth day has afforded the Padres great comfort, though. The kind of start he had against the Dodgers (69-70) was just about a mirror image of these starts he's had during his stretch of 15 starts with two or fewer runs.

"He's pitching with a lot of confidence," Black said. "Young guys at times ... they kind of thrive on it. He doesn't scare off easily. He's pitched consistently all year. What you are seeing is a guy with great talent and good stuff."

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