SAN FRANCISCO -- How things have changed in just two starts for Mat Latos. Twelve days ago, Latos was getting whacked around by the Indians and misguided in complaining that Cleveland was stealing his signs.
On Saturday, following a 2-1 Reds win over the Giants, there was no talk about what's been going wrong with Latos. That's because everything has gone so right. He now has back-to-back complete games after giving up one run and only two hits with no walks and seven strikeouts vs. San Francisco.
"I've been throwing the ball really well as of late," Latos said. "I kept command in the zone as much as possible and got quick outs."
Latos struck out 13 batters and gave up one run on four hits vs. the Brewers on Monday. Since his seven-run, four-inning performance at Cleveland, he has lowered his ERA from 5.20 to 4.42 while posting a 7-2 record.
The Reds broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth when Giants lefty Barry Zito's command disappeared. Zito issued three straight walks with two outs, with Ryan Hanigan's walk forcing home Brandon Phillips.
In the Cincinnati seventh against reliever George Kontos, Zack Cozart hit a leadoff double to left field. Cozart scored on Miguel Cairo's one-out single to center field. Cairo entered the game in the bottom of the fifth when first baseman Joey Votto was lifted as a precaution because of left knee inflammation.
The Reds missed several chances to distance themselves from the Giants while going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. So the rest was up to Latos, who retired 25 of his first 26 batters.
Following a Brandon Crawford double with one out in the bottom of the third inning, Latos retired 18 in a row before allowing Brandon Belt's pinch-hit triple in the ninth. The shutout was lost when Gregor Blanco drove home Belt on a groundout to shortstop.
Closer Aroldis Chapman was warming in the bullpen but would not be needed. The final batter, Ryan Theriot, was called out on strikes to end the game. Latos improved to a 2.19 ERA lifetime vs. the Giants. It was the team that he worked his first complete game against on May 13, 2010, while with San Diego.
"He's tough, and he has great stuff," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We knew we had our work cut out, and he has been tough on us. We knew what we were going into. When a good pitcher is on top of his game, you just do all you can to compete and get some runs, and we just had a tough time today."
No Reds pitcher had put together consecutive complete-game starts since Aaron Harang did on Sept. 24 and 29, 2006.
"When a guy gets a feeling and gets on a roll, let him roll and be as natural as possible," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Coming off Mike Leake's first career complete game Friday, the Reds rotation seems to be rolling and their bullpen has been idle. Cincinnati hasn't had back-to-back days of complete games since Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey did it to the Pirates on May 11-12, 2010.
"[Leake] pitched real well yesterday," Latos said. "I think he beat me because he got a home run. It was good to give the bullpen another day."
Strikes-to-balls ratio was a big factor again for Latos, who threw 115 pitches -- 82 for strikes. He notched 11 groundouts while successful at keeping the ball down.
"The main thing is we're really on the same page in terms of exactly what we're trying to do," Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "We're really getting into a tempo. We trust each other. I think we know what our plan is and so there is no guessing out there and no indecision. He's attacking, getting into good counts."
Since Cleveland, Reds pitching coach Bryan Price and assistant pitching coach Mack Jenkins have scoured video of Latos performances while he was successful for the Padres in 2010.
The sessions produced some changes in mechanics, which begat success.
"Really more than anything, he realized his pitch quality wasn't as good," Price said. "The one thing that stood out was he was dropping his head and his front shoulder and it made it much more difficult for him to create a straight line to home plate and repeat his delivery. Right now he's throwing a lot more like he was back in 2010."
"I think it's helped a lot," Latos said.
Cincinnati finished June 15-12 and held its one-game lead over the Pirates in the National League Central.
In the previous 18 seasons since the NL went to three divisions, the team that led the Central on July 1 clinched it successfully 14 times.
For the Reds to keep that trend going, they will certainly need more outings like this from Latos and the rotation.