Simon keeps showing starter stuff in eight strong

Frazier hits team-leading 14th homer to provide early support

Simon keeps showing starter stuff in eight strong

CINCINNATI -- Back in Spring Training, the Reds tabbed reliever Alfredo Simon to step into the rotation when Mat Latos was injured. It seemed, at first, as though Simon's assignment was temporary.

As it would happen, Latos had a couple of setbacks and Simon thrived as a starter. Once Latos is finally activated on Saturday, as expected, all signs point to Simon remaining in the rotation and the struggling Tony Cingrani coming out.

In a 4-1 Reds win over the Dodgers on Thursday that gave them a split of the four-game series, Simon only made that decision look clearer. While tying his career high of eight innings pitched, he gave up one earned run and seven hits with no walks, one hit batter and five strikeouts.

"It was tremendous and it was much-needed," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "There were three guys in the 'pen we really wanted to stay away from today. We were able to do that."

Although he was strong from the bullpen the past two seasons, Simon has been Cincinnati's most pleasant surprise from the rotation this season. In 13 starts, he is 9-3 with a 2.95 ERA.

"You certainly couldn't have expected [it], not just the 9-3, because sometimes you're the benefactor of a lot of runs being scored every fifth day for you," Price said. "In his case, this is a sub-3.00 ERA, a low walk ratio, a low hit ratio, a low batting average against -- all that statistical stuff we all love. He's doing it. And he's pitching us deep into games. That's the thing that's surprising me more than anything."

Finishing with a 5-5 homestand is not the stuff dreams are usually made of, but this was a needed feel-good ending. Reds starting pitching came up big in the final two games, after Mike Leake and Cingrani combined for 11 earned runs allowed in 10 innings in back-to-back losses to the Dodgers. Then, Johnny Cueto and Simon combined for one earned run over 14 innings, while the Reds scored a combined nine runs heading into a road trip that begins at first-place Milwaukee on Friday.

"It could have been a very disappointing homestand," Price said. "At one point, we were 3-5 and got stung a little bit by L.A. with two unimpressive losses, and rallied back and had two really impressive wins. It's more the type of play our club is capable of playing. We did some really good things."

The Dodgers challenged Simon over the first two innings and ran him up quickly to 43 pitches. In a three-hit top of the first, it was Matt Kemp's two-out single to center field that scored Justin Turner and made it a 1-0 game.

"In the first inning, he came out and was a little off," Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "I think he was a little amped up, because he knew that we needed a big start out of him, and last time these guys got to him a little bit [for five runs in 3 2/3 innings on May 27]."

Facing Zack Greinke, who came in with a 2.62 ERA overall and 2.06 on the road, the Reds countered well and took the lead. In the bottom of the first, Skip Schumaker blooped a leadoff single into center field, and Todd Frazier hit his team-leading 14th homer by lifting a two-run shot to the first row in right field on a first pitch.

"That helped me a lot," Simon said. "When he hit that home run, I just felt more comfortable. I kept pounding the zone and everything was good."

Simon settled into a groove and made the small lead work. Including a seven-pitch fourth inning, he retired 13 of 14 and 11 in a row until he hit Turner with a 2-2 pitch to begin the sixth. Following Joey Votto's first-inning double, Greinke locked down the Reds by retiring 15 of his next 16 batters.

"Unbelievable," Frazier said of Simon's outing. "I look at the little things. He threw 43 pitches in the first two and [16] in the next two. Something like that is huge to get the extra two or three more innings if he needs it. I think that was big. His determination was great out there."

Los Angeles had runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh following singles by Kemp and Andre Ethier, but Simon escaped. With one out, Miguel Rojas bounced into a fielder's choice at third base, where Frazier threw home to get Kemp in a rundown. Ethier narrowly reached third base on the play, but Simon struck out pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke to end the inning.

Simon returned for the eighth and gave up a one-out single, but got back-to-back fielder's choice plays to get out of it. Cincinnati added two insurance runs in the eighth against Brandon League. Zack Cozart doubled and later scored on a wild pitch, and pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick hit a RBI single to center field. Aroldis Chapman's string of 22-straight retired over seven appearances ended with a walk and one-out single in the ninth. But Chapman struck out the side for his 10th save.

Meanwhile, Simon is looking forward to continuing what he's done as a starter.

"Bryan gave me the opportunity to start this year," Simon said. "I just try to do my best every time I go out."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.