Sox' Latos declares controversial days are over
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When A.J. Pierzynski was wearing a Chicago White Sox uniform from 2005-12, he was arguably the most controversial player in the major leagues.
Whether it was scrapping with Cubs catcher Michael Barrett on the field or sparring with teammates and coaches in the clubhouse, Pierzynski always seemed to be in the middle of some type of mayhem.
Truth be told, Pierzynski relished his bad boy image, and still does as he returns for another season with the Atlanta Braves at age 39.
Watching batting practice Tuesday at Camelback Ranch, Sox vice president Kenny Williams was reminiscing about some of the contentious characters that have passed through the South Side during his 25 years in the front office, and he took pride in the club's ability to take chances on players such as Albert Belle, Pierzynski, Carl Everett, David Wells, Jose Canseco and the late Tony Phillips while generally keeping them in line.
That's why, after doing their due diligence, the White Sox didn't think twice about signing Mat Latos to a one-year, $3 million contract this month.
While he should be best known for going 51-35 with a 3.27 ERA from 2010-13 with the Padres and Reds, Latos' comments about his final season with Cincinnati instantly earned him a roster spot on Team Controversy.
"You look at the Reds after we lost Bronson (Arroyo, after the 2013 season)," Latos told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal last spring training when he was with the Marlins. "Everything went to bleep. You look at it after we lost Scott Rolen (after 2012). Everything went to bleep. When Scott was there, we had guys doing exactly what they were supposed to do. After Scott left, we had guys with two years in the big leagues, in the clubhouse, on their phones, laying down in the video room, just hanging out during games, not in the dugout, not cheering their teammates on. Our dugout looked like a ghost town.
"After Bronson, the same exact thing. We had starters in there roping our (clubhouse attendants), like, cattle-roping our clubbies. Guys on their computers, buying stuff, hanging out in the clubhouse. We had a closer in there sleeping until the seventh inning. We lose that veteran leadership, that's what happens. You can't have that. It turns into a circus."
Looking back on it, Latos' honesty was rare fresh air.
But he forgot about that old rule -- what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.
For the first time since joining the White Sox, Latos talked exclusively Wednesday morning to the Daily Herald about where he has been and where he's trying to go.
"You look at it, the way I look at it is, beforehand nothing was really that big of an issue until the stuff with Cincinnati came out," Latos said at Camelback Ranch. "Then it was a big issue. I get it. It is what it is. I don't sugarcoat stuff and I just kind of … somebody asks for the truth and maybe they don't want to hear some of the truth. It's just the way that I am."
Or, the way he used to be.
Trying to resurrect a once promising career that has been derailed by knee, elbow and oblique injuries, Latos is relishing his fresh start with the Sox after combining to go 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA in 24 games (21 starts) last season with the Marlins, Dodgers and Angels.
If Latos has a strong opinion about something this season, he likely will keep it to himself.
"I guess there's a time and a place for all of that, and I'm figuring that out," Latos said. "Just scale it back, that's kind of what I'm doing here. I need to know when to be me and when to kind of back it down a little bit, just kind of blend in. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to back down and blend in and just go about my business. I figure if I take care of me, everything else will take care of itself."
Last season, left knee inflammation landed Latos on the disabled list from May 23 until June 12, and the 28-year-old starting pitcher is still trying to get back up to speed.
"Everything feels good," Latos said. "My body feels good, my mind feels good. Last season, my body was a little out of whack, my mindset was kind of a little out of whack. and then it just kind of snowballed from there."
While he occasionally experiences some swelling in the knee, Latos threw his first batting practice session Wednesday and he's looking to continue to build through spring training and win a spot in the White Sox' starting rotation.
"Last season with the knee and oblique, it's just something that was hard for me to overcome," Latos said. "It wasn't necessarily an injury. They (Marlins) put me on the DL because everything was weak. Nothing was wrong with the knee. It was just weak and everything around the knee was weak. I'll get some swelling and it'll go away. Just a strengthening thing. They wanted to shut me down and get me strong again and I think that was the right move.
"It's kind of my fault. I should have said, 'Let's do it sooner.' They brought it up and I kind of fought against it. That's on me. I kind of wish I would have went with it -- miss the beginning of Marlins' season. But you know, you come out of spring training with that team, we had a chance to be a really ballclub. And you don't want to sit on the freaking bench in the first month and watch the other guys play. I'm hardheaded.
"I finally got right and I feel like I'm over and past that, and I just need to take it full stride and get back to 2010 to 2013."
• Follow Scot's reports on Twitter at @scotgregor.