Young right-hander Mat Latos has been named the Padres #5 starter to open the season. He staved off some tough competition from right-handers Sean Gallagher and Tim Stauffer, who will stick as long relievers, and southpaw Wade LeBlanc, who will start the year at Triple-A Portland.
As for Latos, he looked terrific this spring. I saw him twice on television; he was pounding the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball and locating two different breaking pitches. The Cactus League isn’t the same as the regular season, but Latos has the stuff and appears to get what he’s supposed to do with it. That’s a good sign.
Latos came up with the big club in July 2009 and enjoyed immediate success (4-1, 2.43 ERA) before struggling (1-4, 7.70 ERA) to finish the season. Hitters adjust, and we can cut Latos considerable slack for having worked a total of 184 2/3 professional innings (only 47 of which came above A-ball) prior to his big-league debut.
There haven’t been a lot of pitchers in Padres history to make 10 starts or more at age 21 or younger. Including Latos, the number is six. You know I love me a good list:
Player Year Age GS IP ERA+ K/9 Clay Kirby 1969 21 35 215.2 93 4.72 Al Santorini 1969 21 30 184.2 90 5.41 Andy Benes 1989 21 10 66.2 101 8.91 Jake Peavy 2002 21 17 97.2 83 8.29 Oliver Perez 2002 20 15 90.0 107 9.40 Oliver Perez 2003 21 19 103.2 74 10.16 Mat Latos 2009 21 10 50.2 81 6.93
Uh-oh, I smell bullet points:
- The Padres were a bit pitching starved in their inaugural campaign (team ERA+ of 84). Kirby led the National League with 20 losses. He also threw some gems that year, including a complete game victory over the Reds in Cincinnati on September 10. Kirby went on to win 75 big-league games (52 with the Padres) before retiring after the 1977 season (which he spent getting pounded at Triple-A Hawaii) at the ripe old age of 29. In the Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual, I ranked Kirby the #8 starting pitcher in franchise history.
- Santorini’s shining moment in ’69 came against the Montreal Expos on August 29. Only Ty Cline and Coco Laboy managed to touch him in that game. Santorini liked facing the Expos. On August 19, he hit his only big-league homer in Montreal. The rest of Santorini’s career didn’t go so well. He went 8-14 with the Padres in 1969 and 8-11 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972. For the rest of his career, he owned a 1-13 record. Wins and losses aren’t the best way to measure a pitcher’s performance, but in Santorini’s case, a career record of 17-38 (.309) was well earned (83 ERA+).
- Benes, I suspect, many of you remember. After his stellar ’91 campaign, I ran around telling anyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t) that the #1 pick overall in 1988 was on his way to a Cy Young Award. It didn’t quite work out that way, although he did win 155 big-league games and finish with exactly 2000 strikeouts. I ranked Benes the #3 starting pitcher in Padres history.
- Peavy is the best starting pitcher the Padres have ever had. He currently works for the Chicago White Sox. I’ve said plenty about Peavy over the years, starting with his time at Lake Elsinore. Since we’re on a list kick this morning, here’s a fun one for you.
- Perez, of course, was part of the trade that brought Brian Giles to San Diego. My fondest memory of Perez is the time I sat on top of the dugout at the Q during one of his starts. My other memory (I had forgotten this, so technically it’s a memory of a memory) is of his California League debut, which was suspended due to a bomb threat. That was a weird experience, being evacuated from the ballpark without explanation.
So, what does any of this mean for Latos’ future? I have no idea; like I said, I just love me a good list.