Latos shuts down A's with escape-artist performance
Scoreless start aided by Bruce's solo homer, Phillips' RBI single
CINCINNATI -- Reds manager Dusty Baker said it before Tuesday's game and reiterated it after his team walked off the field at Great American Ball Park with a 3-1 win over the A's.
After losing seven of the previous nine games, including a 15-2 blowout at the hands of the Cardinals on Sunday, what happened on the field Tuesday wasn't important, so long as the Reds found themselves on the winning end of the final score.
"It didn't matter how we won today," Baker said. "Fact is, we just needed a win. We needed to put all the negatives and stuff behind us and get rid of what happened the other day."
Much to the delight of Baker, starting pitcher Mat Latos made sure Tuesday was nothing but positive. The 25-year-old right-hander danced around trouble and gave up just four hits and three walks to go with a trio of strikeouts in 7 1/3 scoreless innings en route to his 11th win. The win marked Latos' third scoreless outing of the year and the first since he blanked the Cubs and Cardinals in back-to-back starts April 24 and 29.
And he did so without being able to effectively use two of his pitches for most of the night.
"I was scuffling today with the offspeed pitches," Latos said. "Curveballs around the neck and sliders below the toes. A lot of the credit has to go to [catcher Devin Mesoraco] on defense today. Actually, all of the credit, to be honest with you."
Mesoraco, who has been a bright spot at the plate recently, spent much of his night blocking Latos' pitches in the dirt. Perhaps more important, he figured out early what was working for Latos and stuck with it through the game.
"He's maturing and he's doing real well," Latos said of Mesoraco. "He recognized I didn't have my slider today, and I really didn't have any offspeed pitch today. I found it later on in the game, but he recognized I didn't have it early in the game, and we exploited what we thought was a weakness with them and it worked out."
That weakness was up and in against A's hitters, according to Latos, who recorded five flyball outs on Tuesday. And although the strategy turned out to be effective, Latos found himself in tough spots throughout the night.
In the first, he worked around a double and walk by forcing a groundout. Two innings later, he gave up a one-out triple to Coco Crisp, but he had little trouble getting Jed Lowrie to eventually pop out to end the inning.
Latos' toughest escape act came in the fifth, when first baseman Joey Votto watched Stephen Vogt's single sneak through the right side, and Crisp reached and moved to second on a fielding error by Brandon Phillips. That set up the A's with runners on second and third and just one out.
Once again, though, Latos avoided any damage by forcing a popout and, after loading the bases with a walk, a Yoenis Cespedes groundout.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin saw what Latos was doing against his batters, but they couldn't manage to beat him.
"Latos' ball got on you a little quicker than the velocity played," Melvin said. "He pitched up in the zone very well, got some strikes up there. Therefore we were having to swing at some of those up there, and we just couldn't get on top of it."
Following perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, Latos started the eighth by retiring his eighth straight batter, but his night ended after Lowrie then doubled.
Fortunately for the Reds, their offense had done enough by then that Latos exited holding a 3-0 lead.
Facing right-hander Dan Straily, who was making his first career start against the Reds, Cincinnati was led by its big guns on Tuesday night, including lefty slugger Jay Bruce, who opened the scoring by leading off the second with his team-leading 23rd home run.
Like the rest of the Reds' lineup, Bruce, who also made a stellar running catch in right field to save a run in the fourth inning, had never seen Straily, but he said that didn't bother him on Tuesday.
"You try not to think about the actual pitcher out there rather than the pitches that they're throwing," Bruce said. "It's just another fastball or whatever the pitch may be. I don't put too much stock in the actual pitcher that's throwing, just what the pitch is doing."
The Reds previously had a chance to score in the first inning with runners on the corners and just one out, but Phillips grounded into a double play. In the third, after a Shin-Soo Choo walk and Votto's second single, Phillips came to the plate faced with the exact same scenario. This time, he hit a single to right-center that brought home Choo and extended the Cincinnati lead.
Choo led off an inning by reaching base for the third time in the fifth, when he connected on his 26th double. Derrick Robinson followed with a sacrifice bunt to move Choo to third, but got even more after Jerry Blevins' throw to first sailed past Brandon Moss and allowed the Reds' third run.
The top five batters in the Reds' lineup combined for six of the team's eight hits, both RBIs and all three runs scored.
Aroldis Chapman, despite allowing a home run to pinch-hitter Derek Norris, recorded his 26th save with three strikeouts in the ninth.
With the Cardinals and Pirates both winning, the Reds remained six and a half games back of first-place Pittsburgh and four and a half games behind second-place St. Louis in the National League Central. Regardless of the standings, Latos and his teammates were happy to move on after a tough stretch of games.
"Couldn't tell you what happened last weekend," Latos said. "All I know is that we played the A's today, and we play the A's tomorrow. We won today, and we just have to take this day by day. We have to forget what happened and just basically prepare and be ready to come out the next day."