Seeking some insurance in case a need for experienced pitching arises down the road, the Nationals have come to terms with journeyman Mat Latos on a minor league contract.
Latos' deal won't be official until he passes a physical, according to a club source, but once that happens, he'll report to the Nationals' minor league complex in Viera, Fla., and attempt to work his way back after a tumultuous stretch that has seen him employed by five different franchises in the last 365 days.
The Nationals are willing to take a shot on Latos, who was released by the White Sox earlier this month (after getting beat by Washington, for what it's worth), in part because of manager Dusty Baker's past relationship with him in Cincinnati.
Latos enjoyed two strong seasons while Baker managed the Reds, going 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 2012 and 14-7 with a 3.16 ERA in 2013 before his career started to spiral downward. Since then, he has battled injuries and bounced all around the league, acquired by the Marlins, Dodgers, Angels and White Sox and now Nationals since July 2015.
"I know there's more in there," Baker said. "And he's not old. And he's not hurt anymore. So there's more in there, and I've seen it."
The White Sox didn't see it this season after signing Latos to a $3 million deal. Though he won his first four starts with an 0.74 ERA, he proceeded to go 2-2 with a 7.25 ERA over his next seven starts before Chicago released him the day after he surrendered six runs to the Nationals in only 4 1/3 innings.
"They didn't give him a whole bunch of time to fall apart," Baker said. "Maybe they didn't believe what they were seeing in the victories that preceded us getting there, I don't know. I can't speak for another man, but I just thought it was premature to release him at that time."
The Nationals will view Latos, 28, as insurance in case of a pitching emergency. After calling up top prospect Lucas Giolito this week to replace the injured Stephen Strasburg, they are running thin on upper-level starting pitchers, certainly any with big league experience.
That's the role the club originally expected Bronson Arroyo to hold, but the 39-year-old still is attempting to return from a partial tear in his right shoulder.
"That gives us some depth, in case something happens to someone," Baker said. "Or if nothing else, September's right around the corner."
Note: Jonathan Papelbon threw about 30 pitches during a simulated game this afternoon at Nationals Park, the closer's latest step in his return from a strained ribcage muscle. Wearing his full uniform, Papelbon took the mound shortly after 3 p.m. and faced teammates Stephen Drew and Chris Heisey. He emerged feeling strong and nearly ready to come off the disabled list.
"I feel like I could go out there tomorrow and pitch," Papelbon said. "But right now, it's time to be more cautious than anything, and make sure I can go back-to-back (games)."
With that in mind, the Nationals plan to send Papelbon to Double-A Harrisburg, where he tentatively will pitch both Friday and Saturday.
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