DETROIT — Like Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after the game, Alfredo Simon reminds you of the movie Forrest Gump.
"Alfredo Simon’s like a box of chocolates," Ausmus said, "’you never know what you’re gonna get.’ You don’t know what pitch, what arm angle."
In the Tigers’ 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros (27-16) Friday night at Comerica Park, Simon (5-2, 2.67 ERA) allowed just two runs, neither of them earned, on four hits while walking one and striking out five.
Aside from Simon’s one start in Kansas City on April 30, in which he gave up six runs on nine hits and lasted just 4 1/3 innings, Simon has arguably been the team’s most consistent pitcher.
In his other eight starts, Simon has allowed just 11 earned runs in 53 innings for a 1.87 ERA.
In order to beat the Astros, you have to be able to keep leadoff hitter and spark plug Jose Altuve off the bases and Simon was able to do that.
Altuve popped out twice and lined out once against Simon.
"The biggest thing is he was locating down in the zone, he was getting in when he wanted to get in, he was hitting his spot away when he wanted to and he was keeping them off-balance," catcher James McCann said. "That’s the name of the game is keeping the hitters off-balance."
In addition to throwing his patented "slow split" to Evan Gattis, Simon dropped down to a three-quarter arm slot when facing Carter.
"He does it in the bullpen," McCann said. "Sometimes he just drops down and goes for it. I think Carter was a little surprised. That’s just like his eephus, no one ever really knows when it’s going to happen, including the catcher, he just kind of does it."
The pivotal point for Simon came in the third and fourth innings.
Jason Castro led off the third with a double and took third on Marwin Gonzalez’s sacrifice bunt.
Altuve lined out for the second out.
But then Luis Valbuena hit a ground ball to Ian Kinsler, who uncharacteristically booted it, letting Castro score for the first run.
George Springer then doubled to score Valbuena for a 2-0 lead.
"After the error, I tried to lock out," Simon said. "I tried to attack the hitter and everything was successful."
The Tigers came right back in the bottom of the third and took a 3-2 lead on J.D. Martinez’s opposite-field, three-run home run, his ninth of the season.
It came one pitch after Martinez hit a ball to left field that was just foul.
"I felt relaxed," Martinez said. "I didn’t feel any pressure in that at-bat. I was just up there trying to stick to my plan, which was get a pitch up. And both of those pitches were up."
After getting a lead, Simon came right back and had a 1-2-3 fourth inning, striking out both Colby Rasmus and Chris Carter.
"I think my key is attack the hitter," Simon said. "If they put the ball in play, you just see what happens. The first inning, I don’t do that well, and then after that, when I get error, I think, ‘I have to put a zero on the board.’ Because when you put a zero on the board, something is going to happen. J.D. Martinez helped me a lot with the home run."
Simon seems to have adapted well to the larger confines of Comerica Park, improving to 3-0 with an 0.94 ERA in five starts at home this season.
"I just feel really comfortable here," Simon said. "That’s a park for pitching. Every time where I go behind the count, I can throw fastballs. It’s a big park, and if they hit fly ball, it’s not easy to hit a home run here. I think my key is, throw the ball down and hope my splitter, my two-seamer work really good, and everything is good."
Simon is a quieter sort but he’s also fit in with the Tigers, which Martinez said has probably helped Simon’s move to a new team and different league.
"You can’t even talk about how awesome (this clubhouse) is, how there’s no egos in here, how everybody in here is helping each other and really trying to push for each other," Martinez said. "You don’t have that ‘I want to take your job’ feeling.
"The way that he comes in and the way the clubhouse accepts everybody, all the new players and stuff like that, I think it just helps him fit in, to not put that pressure on him to not maybe try as hard, to go out there and just play."