Latos has ‘a lot of earning’ to do after signing with Blue Jays

MLB insider Shi Davidi joins Irfaan Gaffar to discuss where Mat Latos fits in with the Blue Jays, and what Aaron Sanchez is focusing on to better himself as a pitcher.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Mat Latos arrived at Toronto Blue Jays camp on Thursday open to all possibilities after agreeing to a minor-league deal that will pay him $1.5 million if he makes the team, with the possibility of another $500,000 in incentives.

The initial plan will be to stretch out the 29-year-old as a starter, a role he’s filled for all but eight of his 194 career games in the big leagues. Still, he threw five games of relief at the end of last season for the Washington Nationals, and that’s a possible landing spot for him, too, should he impress.

"If that’s how it plays out that’s how it plays out," Latos said of a relief role. "I’m willing to do whatever I need to do, whether it’s make it as a starter, long relief, something in the bullpen, triple-A, whatever it is. Whatever I need to do is whatever I need to do. I’ve had a rough go at it for the past two years, and there’s a lot of earning that needs to be done. It’s not just going to be a hand-me-out, given kind of thing. I’ve got a lot of earning I need to do and I need to earn everything as it comes."

Latos was among the game’s most promising young arms from 2010-2014, and former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was a runner-up when the San Diego Padres traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in December 2011.

But the right-hander has struggled with left knee problems over the past 2½ seasons issues stemming from a meniscus surgery in ’14. Steady swelling in the joint has led to a series of complications, limiting him to 182.2 inconsistent innings the past two years.

During the off-season he focused on strengthening the area around the knee, training to the point of "me making myself sick working as hard as humanly possible." The joint feels strong and he’s eager to try and regain his past form, something the Blue Jays are hoping to see.

They’ve been looking to build additional starting depth behind a formidable starting five that’s locked in, barring injury.

"Excited about him," general manager Ross Atkins said in Lakeland, Fla., where he attended a media session with other executives from Grapefruit League teams. "He’s a guy we talked to early on in the off-season, saw it as a good fit with our infield defence, our outfield defence, our catching, the track record. With his experience starting and recently in the bullpen, he clearly can get major-league outs and we’re glad to have him in the organization."

The deal includes multiple opt outs and Atkins said having the right-hander pitch in triple-A Buffalo should he not make the team was discussed contractually, but not practically.

"It wasn’t a driving factor for us in signing him," he said. "We want to put him in the best position to have success and help our major-league team."

Further additions from the remaining free agents are "unlikely," said Atkins. "Now we’re more focused on potential trades than free-agent acquisitions. It would be unlikely for us to make a splash on the starter’s market. It’s also a tough sell for us – we have five starters."

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Overall, he continues, "we feel good about the position we’re in, we feel pretty good about where our team is right now."

Latos is working to feel good, too.

He described the transition to his brief stint in the Nationals bullpen last year as "tough at first," but one he eventually adjusted to.

"Being a starter, you’re kind of like a creature of habit type of thing, you’re used to a five-day routine when you pitch, you do your running, your workouts and four or five days later you go at it again," he said. "Finding a routine was tough but I did enjoy coming in and throwing one inning, basically airing the tank out for one inning and just letting it go. And it wasn’t bad looking back and actually seeing 95 every now and then."


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