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Misstep aside, Latos makes positive return to mound

Reds righty pitches in Minors game following two offseason surgeries, rolls ankle

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There was a moment during his first spring outing in a Minor League game when Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos thought, "Oh no, not again."

Pitching Wednesday on a mound at a back field at the Reds' player development complex he thought was softer than usual, Latos rolled his left ankle on a 3-1 pitch with two outs in the second inning. He tossed his glove on the ground and walked around for a few moments. Trainer Paul Lessard came out to have a look.

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After a few moments, Latos was able to continue and finish his two-inning start with Class A Bakersfield against an Indians Class A team.

"I really wanted to get it over with," Latos said. "I've been dealing with so much crap in the past -- October surgery and Valentine's Day surgery -- I was over getting hurt. I said the hell with it and walked it off a little bit. It wasn't too bad."

Latos, 26, had bone chips removed from his elbow in October and on the first day of camp on Feb. 14, he needed left knee surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage. He pitched off of a bullpen mound for the first time on Friday.

Therefore, some extra attention was certainly paid when something went wrong with Latos' left leg.

"It was tingling and numb when I did it and it was bugging me a little bit, so I just wanted to walk it off," Latos said. "Of course, they're thinking it's the knee. I'm praying to God it wasn't the knee and thankfully, it wasn't the knee. They just wanted to make sure."

Reds manager Bryan Price was among those watching Latos pitch and had initial concern.

"You kind of anticipate something had to have happened for him to respond the way he did," Price said. "It might have just been a scare that maybe he had done something, or had a movement he hadn't done yet or since he had the surgery. Sometimes, you'll hook a spike out there and finish differently and you may have some concern about that. But apparently, there were no issues."

Overall, it was a good outing for Latos. In his two innings, he threw 31 pitches with 19 strikes. He allowed three hits -- all on the ground -- with no runs, no walks and four strikeouts, which all came on breaking balls.

There was good velocity on most of the fastballs. Latos generally threw between 92-94 mph, but touched 95 mph several times.

"He's certainly not in midseason form or shape right now, so that would definitely suggest he wasn't apprehensive about letting the ball go and having any concerns with his elbow or his knee, or he couldn't have gotten those velocity numbers," Price said.

For his first batter, Latos smoothly covered the bag on a groundout to first base. An infield single to the shortstop followed and then he notched back-to-back strikeouts for a 16-pitch inning. The second inning began with a rolling single to right field, with the runner thrown out trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt. Latos followed with a called strikeout and then took the pause for his ankle during the next batter. After resuming, he gave up a single to left field before completing his day with a strikeout.

"I can't really complain for the first time," Latos said. "The first inning, I was definitely amped up. I was over-adrenalined, and stuff like that pumping through my body. I was shaking on the mound just trying to get the nerves out. It's something I've done for a long time, but when you get back on the mound, especially the crap that I've been through the past couple of months, it was definitely exciting."

Latos, who was 14-7 with a 3.16 ERA in 32 starts and 210 2/3 innings last season, was confident he would not begin the season on the disabled list. Before the start, the club was also optimistic and penciled Latos in to make his first regular-season start on April 6 vs. the Mets at Citi Field.

Price wasn't ready to commit, including when Latos might next pitch.

"A lot of times, you've got to wait until the next day and see how his arm responds [Thursday]," Price said. "Because quite often, that will dictate how soon he can come back and pitch again. If there is any stiffness or soreness, you certainly want all of that to be completely out of there before he takes the mound the next time."

It's also hard to say, yet, whether the club will get Latos into a Major League exhibition game or keep him on the Minor League side. There are considerations. If Latos did have to begin the season on the DL, backdating the stint would be affected if he pitched in big league games. Rules allow backdating a DL move up to 10 days before the season begins.

"There are definitely some things as far as scheduling goes," Price said. "But we haven't gotten that far. We just wanted to get through today and take a look at where his next start will be and who it will be against and is he better served in a Major League environment or a Minor League environment where we can control it and we can guarantee he gets his innings and his pitch count. That may be a priority above facing Major League hitters."

The next time Latos does pitch, he would follow the same template other starters have this spring -- going at least three innings and 45 pitches.

"We'd like to move him up incrementally an inning and roughly 15 pitches per start," Price said. "And get him at least up to that 80-85 pitch mark to where we can anticipate that he could go somewhere between 90-100 pitches in his first [regular-season] start, which is pretty much where we get all of our guys before we start the season."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.

Cincinnati Reds, Mat Latos