All those theories that Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon had hit the wall, had reached his pitch limit, that he could barely walk to the mound these days without falling down in utter fatigue, were strongly disproved Sunday afternoon.
It was in the mid-90s on the Great American Ball Park pitching mound and one could cut the humidity with a nail file.
It didn’t bother Simon. But Simon bothered the Atlanta Braves. Simon was as cold and calculating on the mound as The Abominable Snowman in pitching the Reds to a 5-3 victory.
Before Sunday, Simon was 0-5 in seven starts since the All-Star break with a 5.40 earned run average. Before the break he was 12-3 (2.70).
And because he had never pitched beyond 115 2/3 innings during his major-league career, there was much teeth-gnashing over the fact he had pitched 153 innings before Sunday. It was believed by many that Simon was beyond his reach and over his skis. If that’s true, on this hottest day of the month, how could he pitch seven innings of one-run, five-hits, one-walk (it was intentional) and five-strikeouts baseball?
He threw 99 pitches, nearly all of them with purpose, style, command and velocity, all designed to play tomfoolery with the Atlanta batsmen.
Manager Bryan Price agrees that Simon is walking through an enchanted forest for the first time in his career, but doesn’t believe his 6-foot-6, 267-pound right hander is trying to climb over a wall.
“Sometimes you might throw with the same velocity but you don’t feel as strong and you try to manufacture more velocity, even if the gun readings are the same,” said Price. “I get that. I’ve actually done that myself, 25 or 30 years ago.
“But he got back to pitch-execution as his focus instead of velocity, instead of trying to make the pitch break more,” Price added. “He didn’t try to make the ball move a great deal, he just pitched. He was much, much better working down in the zone, getting a lot of ground balls, which we hadn’t seen in a while.”
And Price doesn’t plan to slow down the big man, “Even though we know he is beyond his innings. If we were looking as a kid coming out of the draft or just up from our minor-league system we would look at it completely differently. We’re looking at a more experienced guy, especially with the resilience he has. By the time this is said and done he’ll be knocking at the door of 200 innings.”
Simon was all smiles after finally notching a victory his first since before the All-Star break.
To Simon, innings pitched had no bearing. It was keeping the ball down, down and down.
“I just told myself to keep the ball down because that was tough for me to do after the second half,” he said. “I had a lot of bad games, so today I tried to keep out of the hitting zone and everything came true today.
“The innings don’t mean anything to me,” he said. “I’m not tired. My velocity the last inning (seventh) was 95 and 96. I feel great. I haven’t pitched that much since. Since 2009 I feel like I have a new arm. Everything cames true today and I’m really happy. I kept the two-seamer down and everything came true.”
Of course, it wasn’t easy. The bullpen nearly coughed up the win for Simon. The Reds led after eight (5-1) but Logan Ondrusek gave up a home run to Evan Gattis, then Jonathan Broxton gave up a run to make it 5-3.Atlanta had the bases loaded with two outs before Broxton got the ultra-dangerous Justin Upton to ground out to second to end it.
“Right now we have to play better baseball,” said Price after his team’s second straight victory following seven straight defeats. “Things got messy for us the last two innings and it shouldn’t have. To play the type of baseball we need to play we have to finish strong, play a lot better than we did the last two innings. The first seven were very solid.”
The Reds got the runs Simon needed in the fourth inning against former Reds pitcher Aaron Harang.
After scoring only two runs in their previous 30 innings, the Reds scored three in the fourth. They got back-to-back singles from Todd Frazier and Brandon Phillips to open the inning and a one-out infield single by Jay Bruce to fill the bases.
The first run scored on Ryan Ludwick’s sacrifice fly to right, then singles by Brayan Pena and Zack Cozart drove in a run apiece for a 3-0 lead.
The Reds made it 4-0 in the sixth when Bruce singled, Ludwick walked, Pena beat an infield single to short that loaded the bases and Cozart grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Bruce.
Atlanta scored a run off Simon in the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Gattis and Tommy LaStella and it looked as if Simon might be cooked to a well-done simmer. But he retired the next two batters to wiggle out of any more problems.
Todd Frazier retrieved that one run in the seventh when he ripped his 22nd home run, a 410-foot blast into the left field seats.
Before Sunday’s game, Frazier was in an optimistic and positive mood. He spotted a writer walking into the clubhouse and without being asked or prompted, he said, “It ain’t over. We still have a chance. It doesn’t matter how we get there as long as we get there.”
Getting there — and ‘there’ is the playoffs — will be like a trek through the Himalayas in T-shirts and shorts, but it is significant that one of the team’s leaders refuses to drop his head and enact a woe-is-us pity party.
When play began Sunday, the Reds were in fourth place, 9 ½ games behind Milwaukee in the National League Central. And they were seven games out of a wild-card spot with five teams ahead of them.
“One win at a time,” said Frazier. “One win and another win and another win. We have six games left with Milwaukee and if we go 5-1 we can get back in this thing.”