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A bit balky, but Mat Latos is better in Dodgers' win over Cubs

A bit balky, but Mat Latos is better in Dodgers' win over Cubs
Dodgers pitcher pitcher Mat Latos pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the second inning on Saturday. (Victor Decolongon / Getty Images)

Mat Latos turned up his hands in disbelief. With the score tied and a runner on third, Latos had been called for a balk. He shot a frantic look at the umpire, as if to say, the game couldn't be decided on this, could it?

His night ended Saturday before he got an answer. Latos left the game trailing, 2-1, but outfielder Andre Ethier slapped a single off Jon Lester to score two runs in the seventh inning, the key hit in a four-run rally that gave the Dodgers a three-run lead. They held on for the 5-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.

After five straight losses that included a no-hitter, the Dodgers have won five in a row as they approach September. They are 72-56, tying a season high of 16 games over .500, and 31/2 games ahead of the second-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

"I didn't want something like that costing us a ballgame," Latos said of the balk.

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Other than that, Latos' night had been encouraging, if less than emphatic. He pitched 42/3 innings and gave up four hits and two runs. It was enough to put to rest questions about his status in the rotation, Manager Don Mattingly said.

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Latos was acquired to inject depth into a pitching staff starving for healthy arms, and his presence sent Mike Bolsinger, who hadn't dazzled in 16 starts but had pitched to a 2.83 earned-run average, down to the minors.

But with Latos having scuffled in his two starts before Saturday, and with the roster set to expand to 40 players Tuesday, the Dodgers will have options.

"Obviously, we've got options, we can pitch anybody," Don Mattingly said. "But the plan is for Mat to pitch every fifth day."

After the game, Mattingly said simply of Latos' performance, "Not bad," his voice rising.

Of the rotation, though, he said emphatically, "It's set."

As the No. 5 starter, Latos probably won't crack the Dodgers' postseason rotation, if they make the playoffs. But in a tight division race the team could need Latos to pitch about five potentially crucial games down the stretch.

And Latos remains an unknown element.

His introductory Dodgers start, one run over six innings against the Angels earlier this month, foretold healthy returns. Then, in his next two starts, he imploded for 10 earned runs over 82/3 innings.

The Dodgers, with the luxury of three off days, skipped Latos' next two turns, and Mattingly didn't know how he would react to more than two weeks off.

"Not sure, honestly," Mattingly said before Saturday's game. "Guys that haven't pitched in a while, you've seen it both ways. Guys that come off really sharp and strong or have trouble with command, things like that."

Latos said it was difficult to not pitch. His rhythm felt disrupted. But he used the time off to make an adjustment. After his previous start, he'd criticized himself for leaning too heavily on his fastball. On Saturday, his best pitches were off-speed offerings.

After allowing Dexter Fowler to smoke a leadoff double to start the game, Latos struck out the next three batters, all on split-fingered pitches that plunged out of the zone, to avoid trouble. He struck out two more batters, also on splitters, before departing.

He gave up a run in the second inning after allowing a leadoff single to Kris Bryant, who advanced on a ground ball and a wild pitch before scoring on a sacrifice fly. Afterward, Latos cocked his knee in the air, put his glove to his mouth and screamed in frustration.

The Dodgers, though, tied the score in the third when second baseman Jose Peraza manufactured a run with a single and opportunistic baserunning.

Then Latos balked in the go-ahead run.

In the seventh inning Peraza doubled home Carl Crawford for his first major league run batted in, tying the score, 2-2. Ethier followed with his two-run single and Adrian Gonzalez drove him in with a single to add an insurance run.

The start of the Dodgers' win streak coincided with comments by Clayton Kershaw, who suggested it might be time for the team panic a little, or at least show more urgency.

"It is a little bit of a wake-up call," Mattingly said.

Up Next

Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood (9-8, 3.70 ERA) will face Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta (16-6, 2.22) on Sunday at 5 p.m. at Dodger Stadium. TV: ESPN. Radio: 570, 1020.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

Twitter: @zhelfand

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