If ever there was a smidgen of doubt as to who stays in the Cincinnati Reds rotation when Mat Latos returns Saturday, all smidgen were smashed Thursday afternoon in Great American Ball Park.
It’s simple. It’s Simon.
Alfredo Simon, probably pitching on his personal judgment day, won his ninth game, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-1. The 6-foot-6, 267-pound right-hander traversed eight innings, giving up one run, seven hits, walking none and striking out five during a tension-filled 104-pitch afternoon.
Simon was plucked from the bullpen, presumably as a stand-in, when Latos broke down during spring training. And he was expected to slink back into the bullpen when Latos returned.
Simon, though, is 9-3 with a 2.95 earned-run average, the best record on the staff and one of the best in the National League. He stays and, most likely, Tony Cingrani goes. But the question with Cingrani is, where does he go?
Cingrani, 2-7 with a 4.68 ERA for his 11 starts, could go into the bullpen. But it makes more sense for him to drop down to Class AAA Louisville and make a start every fifth day in search of whatever he has misplaced.
Before Thursday’s game the media and manager Bryan Price discussed three Reds pitchers as possibilities for the All-Star game — Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton. Everybody forgot Simon. Everybody always seems to forget Simon.
“When Simon has pitched well, for the most part he has got a win for it,” said Price. “He pitches deep into games and continues to stay aggressive in the strike zone with his stuff. When he was in there today, one swing of the bat and it was a tie game or a deficit” because Simon pitched with a 2-1 lead the entire way.
“He looks very comfortable in competition in those high-leverage innings,” Price added. “Amazingly, he was a waiver claim (from Baltimore in early 2012) and there is a guy who was OK as a reliever and OK as a starter and came to us and has been absolutely outstanding for us as a reliever and equally if not more successful as a starter.
“He is one of the most durable pitchers I’ve ever had and that’s the thing that makes me feel confident that he can absorb the amount of inning he is giving us. He has incredible durability.”
Things began shakily for Simon in the first inning when he gave up three singles, including a run-scoring hit to Matt Kemp. But he limited the carnage by getting Andre Ethier to pop up with two on and two outs.
Then it was the Reds’ turn to face eight-game winner Zack Greinke. And they did more to Greinke than the Dodgers did to Simon. Skip Schumaker led the bottom of the first with a single and Todd Frazier drove the first pitch he saw over the right-field wall for his 14th homer and a 2-1 lead.
And that’s how it remained and remained and remained.
Simon encountered temporary difficulty in the seventh when he gave up back-to-back singles to Kemp and Ethier. But he got Tim Federowicz on a shallow fly to right, Kemp was caught off third on a ground-ball rundown and pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke struck out.
Greinke left for a pinch-hitter in the seventh and the Reds tacked on two runs in the eighth. Zack Cozart doubled, pinch-hitter Billy Hamilton bunted him to third and Cozart scored on Brandon League’s wild pitch. Schumaker doubled and scored when Ryan Ludwick, batting for second baseman Brandon Phillips, singled to left-center.
Phillips stuck his right index finger in front of his glove fielding a ground ball in the eighth and the ball hit his finger on its way into the glove. “And it was fairly uncomfortable for him to swing the bat,” said Price.
All that remained was for Aroldis Chapman to do his wondrous thing. He had retired 22 straight and 32 of 33 when he walked to the mound, but he wasn’t so wondrous on this day.
He walked the first batter, gave up a one-out single to Federowicz to put runners on first and third before he struck out Miguel Rojas and struck out pinch-hitter Jamie Romak on a 101-mph fastball for his 10th save.
“He certainly has the pitches and command right now,” said Price of Chapman. “I’ve never seen him throw this well. He has had a lot of great moments in a Reds uniform but I’ve never seen him throw as well as he is throwing right now.”
OK, so is Simon an All-Star?
“There are a lot of outstanding starters in the National League and he bumps up against guys who have been outstanding starters for years,” said Price. “When you throw out nine wins, well, he is on the leader board for wins. His ERA is sub-three and I’d absolutely say if they played the game today he would absolutely have to be considered.”