Although this season has been a disappointment, the San Diego Padres are excited about what they've seen from their youngest player.
Rookie Mat Latos looks to build on another impressive outing for the Padres when he takes the ball Monday night in the opener of a three-game series versus the Atlanta Braves.San Diego (43-63) has the NL's second-worst record, which should come as no surprise considering it has scored the fewest runs in the majors (396) and is last in batting average (.235). In Sunday's 6-1 loss to Milwaukee, the Padres were limited to five hits.While the offense continues to sputter, the club's top pitching prospect is shining.San Diego called up Latos (2-1, 2.70 ERA) from Double-A San Antonio on July 18 after he went 8-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 13 minor league games, including 11 starts. The 21-year-old right-hander has made three starts with the Padres, and gotten better each time.After allowing two runs in each of his first two outings, Latos was nearly unhittable in Wednesday's 7-1 win over Cincinnati. He retired 21 of the 23 batters he faced, allowing only a home run and a walk, and needed just 86 pitches to get through seven innings."The best thing I've seen of him is his command," Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez told the team's official Web site. "I think he's going to be good."Latos is limiting opponents to a .164 batting average and could have similar success shutting down Atlanta, which arrives in San Diego struggling to generate offense.The Braves (53-52) were held to five hits in Sunday's 8-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers and plated five runs while batting .188 (18 for 96) in the three-game series. Atlanta, which has lost six of 10 after winning eight of 10, has dropped seven games behind NL East-leading Philadelphia and is five games back in the wild-card race.Brian McCann went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts in the Dodgers series and is hitless in four of his last five games, but hopes to get back on track in Atlanta's first game of the season against one of his favorite opponents.The four-time All-Star catcher went 9 for 15 (.600) with a homer, three doubles, three RBIs and a .714 on-base percentage in five games versus the Padres last season. He is batting .455 (15 for 33) with four home runs, 14 RBIs and a .538 OBP in 10 career games at Petco Park.McCann led Atlanta to wins in five of six meetings with the Padres last year and the Braves are 17-5 against them since 2006.Kenshin Kawakami (5-8, 4.37) makes his first career start against San Diego in the opener.Kawakami permitted six runs and seven hits -- including three home runs -- in 4 2/3 innings of a 6-3 loss at Florida on Wednesday after going 1-1 with a 2.04 ERA in his previous three starts. The 34-year-old right-hander from Japan has been bothered by shoulder fatigue during his first season in the majors, but claimed that was not the reason for his subpar performance."There's nothing wrong with my body or anything like that, there was just something wrong with how I was throwing," Kawakami said through an interpreter on the Braves' official Web site.