Simon picks right moment to shine
Right-hander delivers solid performance in bid to make O's roster
VIERA, Fla. -- It may not have been a closing statement, but it certainly didn't hurt his case.
Alfredo Simon provided the most impressive start of his Spring Training for the Orioles when he worked four innings and allowed just two baserunners in a 5-4 loss to the Nationals on Thursday. Simon, who was signed out of the Mexican League last season, is attempting to carve out a spot on Baltimore's crowded pitching staff.
"I'm just focused because I'm trying to make the team," said Simon. "I don't know what they're going to do, but I'm going to show them what I've got. Then they'll decide what they're going to do."
That comment, as elementary as it seems, is exactly what's going on with the Orioles. Baltimore is evaluating several pitchers for three vacant rotation slots, and every positive outing gives the coaching staff more food for thought. Simon was at his best Thursday, perhaps separating himself from the pack.
Simon, who arrived late to Spring Training due to visa issues in his native Dominican Republic, was dominant from the very beginning. The right-hander got two ground balls and a strikeout in the first inning, and then he retired the next six batters on two strikeouts, two ground balls, a popup and a flyout to right field.
And perhaps most importantly, he did it without tipping his pitches. The team's main concern with Simon last season was that he appeared to throw every pitch from a different arm angle, giving the opposition advanced warning as to what was coming next. Now, everything comes from the same release point.
"We're going to stay in one slot for now," said pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "He's a guy that likes to drop his arm and go to different angles, but he needs to stay in one for a while. You can't ever take that away from him, but let him get a feel for what he's doing and then start changing his release point. Don't do it in the first inning."
"There was only pitch that was down here and Kranitz said something to him between innings," added manager Dave Trembley, who pointed out the pitch-tipping problem last season. "He's much better. He's a horse. He's a big guy and he keeps going right at you. He really had a nice outing for him today."
The 27-year-old, who was originally signed out of the Dominican as a non-drafted free agent by the Phillies, has taken a roundabout route to the Orioles. First, he was traded to the Giants in 2004, and then he signed with the Rangers as a Minor League free agent right before the '07 season.
Simon was taken by Baltimore in the Rule 5 Draft and traded to Philadelphia that winter, but the Phillies wound up electing to return him to the Rangers. Simon was granted free agency again at the end of the '07 season, and after signing and being released by the Dodgers, he landed with Monterrey in the Mexican League.
That's where the Orioles found him, and after four late-season appearances in 2008, he arrived in camp this spring with an outside shot of making the rotation. But the longer camp progresses, the better his chances appear to be.
"I need to get Simon out there and see," Trembley said before the game. "I need to get [Adam] Eaton out there and see. We've done it with [Brian] Bass. I need to get [Mark] Hendrickson back out there. I need to get some of these guys back out there and let them feel like it's determined on what they do one time.
"I don't think that's fair. ... Nobody has been consistent enough to stand out and say, 'It's mine.' I've seen some ups and downs. Eaton took a step forward yesterday, but we've got to see what's going on."
Simon thrived on Thursday by using his fastball, his changeup and his slider to great effect, and Kranitz said that the more often he's able to do that, the more often he'll have success.
"I think Zaunie's the one who really got him going," said Kranitz, crediting starting catcher Gregg Zaun for Simon's success. "He mixed all his pitches extremely well. He threw strikes with three pitches, which at this level, when you have his kind of stuff, you're going to be successful."
Kranitz termed that stuff "really impressive," and Simon earned high marks for staying within himself. Now, he just needs to do it again and again, showing the Orioles what he can do when he's at his best.
"I think I'm focusing on my pitches, my changeup and my slider," said Simon. "I just played winter ball, and I knew I'd be here late. I couldn't help that, so I threw that away and keep focusing on what I'm doing here."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.