Latos' growth apparent in wake of finale

Latos' growth apparent in wake of finale

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Mat Latos turned to face reporters following his fifth consecutive defeat, the latest coming in a must-win game for the Padres to keep their postseason hopes alive, he didn't show the signs of the young, emotional pitcher that have come back to bite him in the past.

He stood tall. He was composed. He didn't shrug off any questions or give tight-lipped answers.

It's clear that Latos has simply grown up in his first full season in the Majors.

The Padres handed the ball to Latos in a rowdy, sold-out environment, and the 22-year-old right-hander delivered. He gave up two earned runs on eight hits over six innings while tallying four strikeouts with no walks.

"That's the one thing I've talked about since the beginning of the year -- I wasn't going to let [my emotions] affect me," Latos said. "I think I handled myself really well. I've come a long way since the beginning of the year, but I still I have million miles left to go."

Both runs allowed came in the third inning, when, after opposing pitcher Jonathan Sanchez tripled to the deepest part of AT&T Park in right-center, Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff provided the damage on back-to-back pitches on a single up the middle and a double to left-center past a diving Chris Denorfia.

"They scratched a few runs off me, but they're a good-hitting ballclub and that's why they're going to the postseason," Latos said. "I went out there and executed my pitches for the most part. I got ground-ball outs when I needed to, I battled when I needed to and I feel like I pitched to my best ability."

After that third inning, Latos responded with three scoreless frames before turning things over to the bullpen with the Padres still well within striking distance.

"He threw the ball well and kept us in the game," Padres manager Bud Black said "I was proud of the way that he bounced back after the last couple of games. He held up his end of the bargain."

Sunday's performance was reminiscent of the Latos from May through August, when he set a Major League record with 15 consecutive starts with two runs or fewer allowed and thrust himself into Cy Young conversations, rather than the pitcher that lacked command down the stretch and was handed the loss in five of his final seven outings.

Heading into 2011, Latos will likely make the step up from the young gun who was having his innings total watched to the ace of the Padres' rotation that was already one of the best in the Majors in 2010. In a way, Latos is the perfect poster boy for the Padres -- a rising club full of young players that relies on a heavy dose of pitching.

Latos said the way the 2010 campaign ended, both in the positive sense of earning his club's trust to take the mound in a playoff-charged atmosphere and in the negative sense of failing to pick up a win in September, will only serve as motivation for the future.

"It's unfortunate that I went 0-5 in September, the time that we needed it the most," Latos said. "It just makes me hungrier for next year. I'm going to go back and look at video in the offseason and just try to progress. You can never stay ahead of the game of baseball, but I'll just look back at what I need to do and make some personal tweaks."

And his teammates know that this is only the beginning.

"The sky's the limit for Mat," Padres closer Heath Bell said. "He's one of the best pitchers we've had, and he's one of the reasons we were in the position we were. He's a young stud phenom that knows how to pitch in big games. He's definitely going to be a Cy Young candidate for years to come."

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