With five weeks left in the regular season, the Rangers are looking toward the future.
Prior to the game, Latz was called up from Triple-A to make his Major League debut as right-hander Dane Dunning landed on the COVID-19 injured list. Latz’s time at the big league level this season is expected to be brief, but manager Chris Woodward said that if Latz dominated the Indians, he’ll be making a case to get the ball once more.
Though Latz surrendered three solo home runs, he impressed in 4 2/3 innings against a team featuring some heavy hitters. The left-hander struck out four without issuing a walk, as he was tagged for three runs on five hits with 84 pitches (57 strikes).
“You're not quite sure how they're going to respond and what their energy is going to look like, but honestly the composure that he showed throughout the night was pretty impressive,” Woodward said. “He gave up the homer [in the second inning] to [Oscar] Mercado, but the next pitch was a strike. He maybe ran out of gas there in the fifth inning, but I felt like he was in control the whole time.
"He looked like a Major League pitcher out there.”
Latz, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 MLB Draft, settled in quickly on the mound. He sat down the first four batters he faced before Mercado connected on a four-seam fastball for a homer. The long ball didn’t rattle Latz, however, as he recorded his first career strikeout when Bradley Zimmer swung through a slider on the outside corner in the next at-bat.
The 25-year-old had family, friends and former coaches in attendance for his debut. The road trip from Chicago to Cleveland didn’t wear out his fan base as their cheers were heard clearly on the field.
“I was afraid if I got out there too early to take him out,” Woodward said, “that they'd boo me.”
Latz learned that his Rangers debut was in sight earlier in the week when he was scratched from his Monday start for Triple-A Round Rock. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind experience.
"I would have to catch a plane on Tuesday and come on up, and hopefully get my shot,” Latz said. “Then, I found out later last night that it was going to be official and from that point on, I was just smiling the whole time. I was just really excited to get out there and try to take it all in.”
Latz kept the Rangers in the game as he minimized contact on his four-pitch arsenal. Latz recorded a 26 percent called-strike-plus-whiffs rate in his debut, while he held Cleveland to three groundouts and three flyouts.
While Cleveland’s lineup did most of the damage against the Rangers’ bullpen, Texas couldn’t match the same game plan.
The Rangers loaded the bases in the third, but the opportunity to jump ahead vanished after a called third strike on DJ Peters ended the threat. Jason Martin’s two-run homer in the sixth, his fifth on the season, was all Texas put on the board.
“I thought early on, we pressed [Indians starter Zach Plesac] a ton. I felt like we got a little bit unlucky those first three innings, we hit a lot of balls hard,” Woodward said. “Every ball we hit was on the screws. That's baseball.”
Putting the loss aside, the Rangers have much to look forward to with the talent coming up in their farm system. Though Latz is not ranked in the club’s Top 30 Prospects list, he showed that he has plenty of upside with a sharp curveball and the ability to bounce back quickly.
“I learned that at the end of the day, it's a baseball game and it's something we've been doing for my entire life, and that should never change. I'm very happy that I was able to do that," Latz said. "As I've learned through the Minor Leagues as you go up, you just have to be finer, and the mistakes that you make will end up costing you. Luckily, I didn't walk people so solo home runs won't always beat you, but just being finer with your mistakes is gonna be the biggest thing moving forward.”