CINCINNATI — Alfredo Simon was just supposed to be a temporary solution to a starting pitching conundrum at the beginning of spring training. He very well could find himself in Minnesota in a couple of weeks as a National League All-Star.
Simon continued his joy ride of a season Friday night by giving the Reds exactly what he’s given them all season; a commanding performance on the mound that led to a 4-2 win against division-leading Milwaukee at Great American Ball Park and snapped a three-game losing streak. Simon had never won more than nine games at any level of professional ball but he is now 11-3 this season, joining Adam Wainwright of St. Louis and Zack Greinke of Los Angeles at the top of the NL wins category.
He left the game with one out in the eighth inning after surrendering a solo home run to Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Simon allowed the Brewers just six hits and stranded six runners, including two in the seventh inning after Milwaukee turned a hit batter and two singles into its first run of the game and was threatening for more.
Twelve of the 22 outs Simon recorded Friday came on ground balls or line drives to the infield.
"That was fun," said Simon. "I just tried to keep the ball down like I do before and tried to win this game. It was big for me."
Maybe the only person not a bit surprised by Simon is Simon. He was the designated long reliever for the Reds since they picked him up off waivers from Baltimore at the start of the 2012 season. When Mat Latos had his spring training delayed by injury, the Reds decided to get Simon ready to start in the rotation just in case.
Just in case has turned into 17 starts, 15 of which fall into the quality start category of six innings with three runs or fewer allowed. Beyond that, Simon has pitched into the seventh inning in 12 of his starts and gone at least seven innings nine times. He’s totaled 110 innings so far this season, just shy of his career high of 115 2/3 innings in 2011 with the Orioles when he started 16 times in 23 appearances.
"It’s fun playing behind him," said shortstop Zack Cozart. "He throws a lot of fastballs, a good two-seamer, gets a lot of ground balls. He works fast and throws a lot of strikes. It’s crazy how he wasn’t even supposed to be a starter and now that’s 11 wins with a below-3 ERA. He’s pitching unbelievable. I think he should be up there when we talk about All-Stars as much as anybody."
Cozart was the busiest of the Reds’ infielders. He had three putouts and eight assists, taking part in at least one defensive play in every inning. Cozart had 14 chances last Saturday night in San Francisco, converting them into two putouts and 11 assists during the Reds’ 7-3 win in 11 innings. Simon started that game, too.
The Brewers tested Simon in each of the first three innings but each time Simon stranded a runner in scoring position. He wasn’t his sharpest but he found a way to keep Milwaukee off the scoreboard.
"He made big pitches when he needed to," said Cozart. "That’s why he has 11 wins."
The Reds are now 6-2 against the Brewers this season. They are in fourth place in the Central division and trail Milwaukee by six games. St. Louis is four games behind the Brewers, while Pittsburgh is 5 Â½ games behind. Friday’s win prevented the Reds from dropping a fourth game in a row and falling farther behind the pack. The three-game sweep in San Diego is now officially in the past.
"Anything can happen in this thing. We’re not that far back," said manager Bryan Price. "We don’t want to get further back heading into the All-Star break and create a mountain that’s much tougher to climb."
Simon helped the Reds grab a 2-0 lead in the third when he lined a one-out single to left field. Billy Hamilton followed with his fifth home run of the season. Hamilton’s ball would have been a lazy fly out in San Diego’s cavernous Petco Park but instead Hamilton had to shift into near-walk mode as he approached second base so as not to possibly pass a loping Simon on the base path.
"I just tried to jog because I knew that was a home run," said Simon. "That’s too fast. I just tried to take it easy."
Simon has been making this starting job look easy all season. Much easier than anyone could have imagined back in Goodyear.