GLENDALE, Ariz. — White Sox pitchers and catchers reported to spring training Friday morning. For one new Sox pitcher, Mat Latos, it marked not only the beginning of a new season but the chance to reset a once productive career derailed by injuries over his last two seasons.
“I want to get on track, I want to win ballgames, go into the playoffs and go to the World Series,” Latos said at his locker during his first group interview since signing a $3 million, one-year deal as a free agent.
At 28, Latos comes with a proven record having pitched to a 3.27 ERA and a strikeout rate of 8.2 per nine innings between 2010 and 2014. Knee and elbow issues hampered him for good portions of ’14 and 2015.
“I feel great, I feel great,” Latos said. “I spent all winter in Miami working out with a physical therapist who I worked with when I was with Miami [Marlins] when I went on the DL. We attacked some of the points that were weak during the year and fixed what was bothering me.”
Asked if he was physically at 100 percent, Latos said, “Yeah. Your words, not mine. [But] I feel great. Like I said, that group I worked out with they don’t take any crap and get after it. So I feel really good coming into this year.”
Latos will have every opportunity to make the Sox rotation that also includes Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and John Danks. Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner are also rotation candidates. Having worked with new Sox catcher Dioner Navarro was one reason the Sox appealed to Latos, who, at $3 million was “too good to pass up” according to general manager Rick Hahn.
“I sat down and had a discussion with my agent about what made the most sense,” Latos said. “We talked a couple of days, kind of figured everything out and decided it was a good fit with [manager Robin] Ventura and [pitching coach] Don Cooper. I’m familiar with Dioner Navarro, so him being here as a catcher I’m familiar with is something I definitely look forward to.”
Latos was limited to 112 2/3 innings in 2015, pitching to a combined 4.95 ERA with the Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels. From 2010 to 2014, he posted ERAs of 2.92, 3.47, 3.48, 3.16 and 3.25 with the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds, averaging 32 starts and nearly 200 innings over a four-year stretch. His career ERA is a tidy 3.51.
“I’m excited. I feel like I have to go out and pitch like I used to before the injury,” he said. “I struggled with the injury, it was something I never had to deal with, having back to back [knee and elbow] surgeries. It was something to overcome and I feel like the training program I was on during the offseason will help.”
Latos had surgery in February 2014 to repair torn meniscus cartilage. He said the injury prevented him from striding and landing normally on his follow through. His offseason training program strengthened areas around the knee.
The injuries were “extremely frustrating. I think it shows. A lot of things were on my mind throughout the 2014 and 2015 about it and how the body felt. Just dealing with lingering issues with it, and finally dealing with it during the offseason.”