Simon showing he’s more than just a replacement

Cincinnati Reds' Alfredo Simon, right, celebrates with teammate Ryan Ludwick after scoring on a sacrifice fly hit by Joey Votto during the sixth inning of the baseball game against the New York Mets at Citi Field, Sunday, April 6, 2014, in New York.

Seth Wenig/AP

PITTSBURGH — Alfred Simon had a little trouble finding a good grip on the baseball in the first inning Wednesday night. He obviously didn’t have any pine tar handily lathered on his neck to get him through the situation, so he had to work things out himself.  

Simon was able to gather himself after walking three Pittsburgh Pirates, including Ike Davis with the bases loaded to push across a run, and gave the Reds another solid outing in their 5-2 victory. He finished the game with 6 2/3 innings, two runs on four hits and four strikeouts. He walked just two more after that first inning to get the win and improve to 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA in his four starts.

Simon has his chance to start because of the multiple injuries Mat Latos has dealt with this spring, the latest being a strained right flexor mass, but Simon has shown he belongs in the rotation regardless.

Since the Reds picked him up on waivers from Baltimore two days before Opening Day two years ago, Simon has shown he belongs wherever the Reds have used him. He made 99 appearances, all out of the bullpen, for the Reds the last two seasons with a 2.78 ERA, allowing 133 hits in 148 2/3 innings. His main role was in long relief but he did get two saves.

"I’ve got good stuff and every time I go out there I just try to do my best," said Simon. "I was a starter before (in Baltimore) and it’s feeling pretty good right now to pitch every five days. I just feel real comfortable."

When Latos began spring training by needing to undergo knee surgery on Feb. 14, the Reds got ready for the possibility of losing one of their main starters for an indefinite period of time by immediately inserting Simon into his spot. He followed the routine of the starters, building up his arm strength so he would be ready to go at the start of the season.

After needing just 79 pitches to get through seven innings in his season debut at New York against the Mets, Simon has thrown 102, 101 and 112 pitches in his last three outings. He’s totaled 27 2/3 innings so far, giving up just 17 hits and five runs (four earned) in the process. Opponents are hitting just .172 against Simon so far.

"He’s done a great job, he really has," said right fielder Jay Bruce. "He’s one of those guys who is ready for any role. He has no fear. He’s going to go in and throw strikes. There’s going to be some action. You couldn’t ask for a better performance from him so far as far as holding that spot down until Mat gets back."

Latos has not pitched in a game since April 3 when he started for Double-A Pensacola in a rehab start. He was supposed to start for Triple-A Louisville on April 8 but was scratched. He has not yet been cleared to begin a throwing program so there is no timetable on his possible return or what will happen with Simon if/when Latos does come back.

The most likely scenario is that Simon goes back to the bullpen. He’s shown the versatility to make the switch back but it won’t be an easy decision for manager Bryan Price.

"He’s been terrific," said Price. "He’s been our extremely versatile pitcher here over the last two-plus seasons for us and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s always been a talented guy but he’s kind of found himself and he’s making himself a pretty good looking starting pitcher."