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Simon locks down No. 4 spot despite shaky outing

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — By the time Alfredo Simon settled in to his start against the Yankees Friday, it was just about over.

He got hit for the cycle — triple, double and single to the first three hitters he faced and a home run to the eighth — in a six-hit, six run first inning as the Yankees beat the Tigers 11-2 before a 9,817 sun-soaked, early-leaving patrons at Joker Marchant Stadium.

"This is going to happen," Simon said. "We're in spring training and we're just trying to work on every pitch we have. Better to have this happen now, the season is starting soon."

Manager Brad Ausmus set his rotation earlier on Friday and Simon will begin the year as the fourth starter behind David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and ahead of Shane Greene.

"Simon's stuff seemed flat today," Ausmus said. "It was one of those mid-spring training outings where he didn't have location with his stuff."

Brett Gardner's triple, RBI doubles by Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela and a two-run home run by Rob Refsnyder did the heavy damage against Simon, who said he couldn't get his split-finger pitch down in the zone.

"I left the split up, all the pitches were up," he said. "They put good swings on the ball. I don't throw the ball down, and on those 3-2 pitches, the split wasn't breaking too much."

He seemed to correct whatever was ailing him between innings. His fastball velocity went up to 95 and his breaking balls became sharper. He allowed only a walk and hit batter in the second and third innings.

"I tried to put more on the fastball and two-seamer," he said. "Everything was OK after that."

He did throw 68 pitches in those three innings, an indication of his laborious first.

Ausmus also showcased the back end of his bullpen in this game — it was the only bright spot other than the sun for the Tigers.

"They were very good," Ausmus said.

Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria pitched an inning apiece. Total damage one hit (a wind-aided home run to right field by Alex Rodriguez off Rondon), and six strike outs.

"Joba was particularly good today," Ausmus said. "That slider was very sharp. It was nice to see."

Chamberlain had been roughed up a bit in his earlier outings (seven hits, four runs in four innings). But Ausmus wasn't concerned.

"There is enough track record with Joba," he said. "We also know he thrives on the energy of big situations. But he was good today."

Rondon, who struck out the side, threw 21 pitches, 13 of them were 97 mph or faster. He reached 100 mph on the scoreboard radar gun on successive pitches before striking out Garrett Jones on a change-up.

"I wouldn't trust that radar gun," Ausmus said. "Sometimes it's accurate and other times it's four to six mph up."

Ausmus said those 100 mph pitches from Rondon were actually 97 mph — but why quibble over a few miles per hour when it's over 97?

"He was still throwing the ball hard," Ausmus said.

The home run hit by Rodriguez came in at 98 mph.

Soria hasn't given up a run all spring and Nathan has been spot-on his last three outings.

"He is keeping the ball down more," Ausmus said of Nathan. "All his two-seamers were down. He's been working on getting his fastball down and that two-seamer does it for him."

It was a different story for right-handed pitcher Alex Wilson. Once a viable candidate to make the Opening Day roster, he continues to struggle. He came into his outing Friday having allowed seven runs (four earned) and eight hits in six innings.

He gave up three more runs to the Yankees in the eighth.

"Prior to this outing, mechanically he was more solid," Ausmus said. "He was more in control of his body and wasn't flying off. It just got away from him today."

The only positive note about the offense — held in check by Yankees starter Adam Warren — was it snapped a 14-inning scoreless drought with a wind-aided home run to right by Yoenis Cespedes.

Rajai Davis had two singles and a double. Ian Kinsler had an RBI single.

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky