Chances are, you didn't know much about Mat Latos before tonight. Perhaps you'd never even heard of the Padres right-hander, whose first name is missing a "T" and whose last name isn't pronounced the way you think. (It rhymes with "hate" not "hat".)
Well, this just in: Latos deserves your attention, because he's one of baseball's best pitchers, even if no one outside of San Diego realizes it.
After thoroughly dissecting the Nationals' lineup during seven shutout innings tonight in the Padres' 7-1 victory, Latos finds himself with a 10-4 record and a 2.45 ERA.
Oh yeah, and he's only 22 years old.
And did we mention he was born in Alexandria?
Yes, that was Northern Virginia's own Mat Latos dismantling the Nats tonight on South Capitol Street. OK, so he moved to Florida when he was a kid. But he still maintains close ties to the region. His parents have since moved to the Fredericksburg area, and his aunt, uncle and cousin live near Woodbridge.
Which may explain why on an otherwise uneventful night of baseball played in front of a paid crowd of 17,364, a sizable contingent of fans in Padres gear was cheering Latos' every move. Turns out he left 26 tickets for friends and family.
"It's always nice to have fans wherever you're at," he said. "It gives you a little bit more confidence knowing there are people here who are supporting you."
Latos often vacations in Virginia during the offseason, spending enough time around here that he considers it something of a second home.
"It doesn't necessarily feel like home," he said. "But it's close enough."
The way Latos pitched tonight, Nationals Park probably felt like Petco Park (with a bit of humidity thrown into the mix). He never gave the Nats a chance, scattering two hits and two walks over his first six innings before finally loading the bases in the seventh (and still pitching his way out of the jam without allowing a run).
He deftly mixed a 95 mph fastball with a sharp-breaking curveball that had Nationals batters baffled from start to finish.
"He's got a really good curveball, but you've got to have so much respect for the fastball," Jim Riggleman said. "He's a power pitcher with a classic downward breaking ball and good, hard fastball."
Oh yeah, Latos also clubbed the first home run of his career, tagging a first-pitch fastball from Luis Atilano into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning.
Atilano, who labored throughout his 5 1/3 innings of work, could only sigh about that titanic clout from the opposing hurler.
"The pitcher," he said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Things happen."
The Nationals might have been able to overcome Atilano's struggles had they simply been able to continue their recent hot streak at the plate. After clawing and scratching to push across one or two runs for the better part of the last three weeks, the Nats had scored 24 runs in their last four games and made a couple of quality San Diego starters (Clayton Richard and Jon Garland) look meek.
Not so much tonight against the budding ace of the Padres' staff.
"They're a real good-hitting ballclub," Latos said, throwing compliments at the Nationals left and right. "We talked about it before the game: If you make mistakes, they're going to hit it. They've got Zimmerman, who should have been an All-Star. Adam Dunn, who just had a three-homer night. Willingham's having a great season. Pudge Rodriguez. So to go out there and put up the numbers I did is fantastic."
Fantastic, but not all that surprising for Latos, who has been on a pitching streak as dominant as anyone else in the majors. Since May 1, he's 9-2 with a 1.56 ERA. For comparison's sake, in the same span Ubaldo Jimenez is 10-1 with a 2.72 ERA and Josh Johnson is 7-2 with a 1.19 ERA.
Those two aces will be in Anaheim next week, one of them getting the nod to start the All-Star Game. Latos will be back home, watching on TV, still unknown to the majority of the baseball world.
A few more outings like this one tonight and it's hard to see this Alexandria native remaining anonymous much longer.