WASHINGTON — Just days before the September 1 roster expansions, the Washington Nationals must make a decision on veteran starting pitcher Mat Latos, who is due for an opt-out of his minor league contract with the team:
Latos signed with the Nationals after a red-hot start to his season in Chicago, turning in a 0.74 over his first four starts with the White Sox. From there, his ERA ballooned to 4.62 and suffered his final Major League loss at the hands of the Nationals on June 7.
He was designated for assignment and released, signing a Nats minor league deal with multiple opt-out clauses over the course of the summer:
Latos seems to have settled down whatever plagued his performance in June, getting into a good groove with a 1.29 ERA across 28 innings in six starts.
Given his success in the minors, Latos could potentially provide value at the Major League level. The Nationals are still without Stephen Strasburg (elbow), who began a throwing program over the weekend and is being treated extremely cautiously by the Nats.
“Doctors have poked and prodded and given [Strasburg] almost every test that there is,” Nats skipper Dusty Baker told the media. “How much time do you give him? We give him enough time for him to be right.
“And if he’s not right, we got to go to another option.”
That other option might eventually be Joe Ross, who is still working his way back from shoulder soreness that robbed him of his entire second half of the season. He pitched one inning in a rehab start at Pawtucket, allowing one run on three hits and still appears to be weeks from returning to the Nats rotation.
But even with two important cogs of the rotation on the shelf, the Nats are flush with options. Youngsters Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole have been serviceable in the last few weeks since being recalled from the minors. Austin Voth remains an option at AAA Syracuse.
Although the bullpen is worn thin from use, the Nats could also choose to bump long man Yusmeiro Petit to the rotation, opening up an opportunity for Latos as a swingman.
If he did make his return to the big leagues via the bullpen, it would be his first action as a reliever since 2015 with the Los Angeles Angels.
A return to the bullpen could also increase a flagging velocity on his fastball, which was one of his calling cards earlier in his career. Whether or not that appeals to the Nats will be decided in the next 24 hours.