Long reliever Alfredo Simon went nine days without touching the mound in a game until he was needed during Friday's 6-3 Reds loss to the Rockies. Simon showed no rust, pitching two scoreless innings with one hit and two strikeouts.
"I just tried to do my job and the best I could and just throw strikes," Simon said on Saturday. "Everything worked very good."
The guy Simon replaced, rookie reliever J.J. Hoover, followed starter Johnny Cueto's short 4 2/3-innings night by throwing 1 1/3 scoreless innings with one intentional walk and a strikeout.
Hoover hadn't pitched since May 17. Shortly thereafter, the rotation went on a six-game streak of quality starts while the team won six in a row. Hoover was back again in Saturday's 10-3 victory. After a short 3 2/3 innings start for Mike Leake, Hoover pitched another 1 1/3 scoreless innings and was awarded his first Major League win.
Having the front end of the bullpen pitching just as effectively as the guys on the back end is a nice luxury for a manager to have. It's also a fine line that has to be towed by those relievers.
"It's important because they don't get to pitch much if your starters are doing well. That's where the dilemma comes in," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "When were we supposed to use them when our starters go seven innings? Not only are they going seven innings, it's been close ballgames -- every one of them.
"It's very important that they stay sharp. It's a hard thing to do when you're in the front of the bullpen -- when are you over-working and leaving it in practice and when are you under-working and not sharp in the game?"
Some fans still dwell on Simon's early struggles shortly after he was claimed on waivers from the Orioles before Opening Day. The roughest one was the run-scoring wild pitch from the right-hander in extra innings that lost a game at Washington on April 12.
But since that game, Simon has a 0.63 ERA with one earned run allowed over 14 1/3 innings and a 2.04 ERA in 12 games overall. However, his role often means coming in with his team behind. The Reds are 1-11 in games he pitches.
"I just feel real comfortable here," Simon said. "I know it's a little tough to get into a game because I am a long reliever. I was a starter before [in Baltimore] and have never been in this situation before. I just try to do my best every time I go out there."