SAN DIEGO -- As kids, you figure, Giants manager Bruce Bochy must have been hell on wheels toward his older brother Joe. Maybe trashed his bedroom a few times? Snuck downstairs and eavesdropped when Joe brought home a date?
"Naw," Bruce Bochy said, smiling. "He's older than me. He can beat me up."
|Heading into Tuesday's start, Mat Latos has retired 55 of the past 58 batters he has faced. (Getty Images)|
It is one of the screwiest twists of the baseball season:
Latos is dominating San Francisco more thoroughly than fog. He has twice beaten the Giants 1-0, firing a total of 16 scoreless innings, holding them to a total of five hits and making a certain manager's life miserable.
He has the chance to make the Giants something less than jolly for a third time before Memorial Day when he starts against San Francisco again on Tuesday night.
And by the way, the scout who signed Latos, San Diego's 11th-round draft pick in 2006?
Joe Bochy, now in his 13th season as a Padres scout.
"It is kind of funny," Latos says.
On the heels of his one-hitter against the Giants five days ago, Latos, who has helped pitch the surprising Padres into first place in the NL West, currently ranks as the game's hottest pitcher. His 18-inning scoreless streak is the longest in the majors.
Even more impressive, heading into Tuesday night's start, Latos has retired 55 of the past 58 hitters he has faced.
"He's got a lot of life on his fastball," Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz says. "He spots it up, and it's an easy pitch to chase up at your letters.
"It runs up, and when a guy is throwing in the mid-90s, it's tough to catch up to it."
In what is beginning to take on all the appearances of a breakout year for Latos, 22, there is also this: In the start before last, he held Houston to two hits over eight shutout innings, giving him consecutive starts in which he has worked at least eight innings, given up two hits or less, allowing no runs and no walks.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Latos is only the third pitcher since 1900 to accomplish that feat, following Cy Young (1905) and Billy Pierce (1958).
"My first couple of games, I struggled with mechanics," says Latos, 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA on the season. "I was leaving balls up and making mistakes."
What did he learn?
"If I can put it in strike one, that's to any pitcher's advantage because you can expand the strike zone," Latos says. "And I've been clicking with my catcher [Nick Hundley]. Every pitch the catcher has called has been what was needed in that situation.
"I throw every pitch with conviction. You have to trust what you're throwing."
Joe Bochy first spotted Latos as a high school junior in Coconut Creek, Fla., at a game in which, as so often happens with scouts, Bochy actually was there to watch another player.
"I didn't even know who Mat Latos was," Bochy says. "I saw this tall, blonde kid who was quick as a cat on the mound and who ran the bases well."
The more Joe Bochy watched, the more he liked.
"Tall, pitcher's body, very athletic and coordinated," he says. "He threw strikes. He was only a junior so he wasn't eligible for the draft that year, so I wrote a 'follow' report on him."
The Padres followed him, and they viewed Latos as a first-rounder going into his senior season, but he had maturity issues at the time that scared them off. When he signed a letter of intent to pitch at the University of Oklahoma, the Padres thought his grades might chase him to a community college. That's exactly what happened, and they drafted him after his freshman season at Broward (Fla.) Community College.
After just one full professional season, a rapidly maturing Latos pitched his way into the bigs last July, went 4-5 with a 4.62 ERA over 10 starts and then won a rotation spot in 2010 this spring.
His fastball sizzles in the mid-90s, occasionally touching 97, and he also throws a killer slider, a sharp curve and a changeup.
As for those early mechanical struggles, Padres manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley moved Latos on the pitching rubber, from the third-base side to the first-base side, three starts ago. Since then, Latos has allowed only two earned runs in 23 innings, with 19 strikeouts and three walks.
Key to the repositioning on the rubber? It has allowed him to consistently throw both his fastball and slider for strikes down and away to right-handed hitters.
"When he started pulling his slider off the plate to right-handed hitters, that move got him back," Hundley says.
Did it ever. Now, if the surprising Padres continue to hang around in the NL West, the next issue with Latos will be his workload. Just 22 and coming off of a season in which he threw only 123 1/3 innings between the Padres and two minor-league stops, the Padres would like to limit him to around "150 to 180 innings pitched" this year, according to Black.
For now, there is a long way to go until that point -- for both the Padres, who were swept by the Dodgers over the weekend, and for Latos, who has worked 43 1/3 innings so far in 2010.
Of course, the way he's racking up innings against the Giants, his threshold may arrive sooner rather than later. His WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in his two starts against the Giants is an astounding 0.313.
The Bochy brothers, sons to a man who was a U.S. Army officer, each swear that Latos is not elder bro Joe wreaking revenge on Bruce for some real or imagined childhood slight.
"That's not how we were raised, believe me," Joe says.
Fact is, Joe says, it hasn't even come up in conversation between him and his brother.
"I haven't called Bruce and he hasn't called me," says Joe, who pitched in the Twins' organization for two years around 1970 and lives in Florida. "But that's normal. We very seldom talk during the season. With my pro duties, I'm on the road so much, and he's trying to win games every night. The few times we do talk, it's about family."
"I had a chance to talk with Bruce last year," Latos says. "I told Joe that if I ever got to see his brother, I'd say hello and show my face."
The Giants -- and, increasingly, San Diego's other opponents -- could do without seeing much more of Latos' face.
That, and something else, too.
"He's got quite an arm, hasn't he?" Bruce Bochy marvels.