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Simon halts Tigers' skid with stellar outing

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers were about to run onto the field to start the game against the Indians Saturday when manager Brad Ausmus nudged Alex Avila.

"He's like, 'Man, Simon looks nervous,'" Avila said.

Of course he was being sarcastic. As Ausmus said after the game, Tigers starter Alfredo Simon is a cool customer on the mound — almost like he's having a catch with his son.

"It looks like he doesn't even know what's going on," Avila said. "It's hilarious sometimes. When he's throwing his warm-up pitches, it's like he's just kind of throwing the ball. It's like he's playing Wiffle ball out there. Nothing will affect him."

He was the right guy for the Tigers to turn to then to stop a four-game losing streak. He calmly kept the Indians at bay for 6.2 innings and the Tigers took a 4-1 win. He is the first American League starter to reach four wins on the season.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Indians 1

"I don't even look at that," he said of his record and 1.65 ERA. "Sometimes you pitch a good game and you don't win. I just every time try to do my job and try to give my team a chance to win the game."

The Tigers had to make a quick adjustment just minutes before the start of the game. Indians starter, hard-throwing right-hander Trevor Bauer, became ill while he was warming up and was scratched.

He was replaced by soft-tossing left-hander TJ House.

"As soon as I found out, it was 10 minutes before 1 p.m., I went downstairs and a lot of guys were by the (batting) cage with Wally (Joyner, hitting coach)," Ausmus said. "Since he's left-handed, he immediately started throwing batting practice so they could see something from the left side."

It may have been just what the doctor ordered for the Tigers' scuffling offense. House came in with a ballooned ERA (14.14) and it was the Tigers who put a lot of the air into that balloon. Back on April 12, they beat him up for six runs on six hits in 1.1 innings.

"We're out there in the bullpen warming up and we see Bauer leaving and House coming so we figured he was going to pitch," Avila said. "You prepare all day for a certain guy and it's a different guy, but you just deal with it.

"Little league, high school, college, we didn't know who was pitching, we didn't have scouting reports. We just went and played."

The Tigers weren't quite as explosive this time, but they got House for three runs and four hits in three innings.

"We just haven't been able to get that one hit that can open up an inning or open up a game for us," Ausmus said before the game when asked about the team's inability to score runs (eight in the previous four games).

They didn't get that one big swat Saturday, either, but they got a couple well-timed little ones.

Victor Martinez, after House had loaded the bases with no outs in the first, lined a two-run single to right field. But that rally fizzled immediately after when J.D. Martinez bounced into a double play.

Victor Martinez, after the Indians walked Miguel Cabrera intentionally (the first of three intentional walks, and four total walks on the day), singled in another run in the third inning.

But the big inning was nixed when Avila grounded out with the bases loaded.

"The two singles right-handed (by Martinez) were obviously big," Ausmus said. "Big runs to get us on the board early. He took some pretty good swings left-handed, too. He's not having a lot of luck left-handed, when he is squaring up the ball, but I do see progress with him, in terms of how his knee is feeling."

The Tigers scored the fourth run against reliever Zach McAllister in the fourth. A two-out double by Ian Kinsler scored Rajai Davis.

Davis was on base his first three at-bats — single, walk, single. He stole second based twice and scored all three times. Davis wound up with three steals and the Tigers stole five in a game for the first time since 2007.

"That's what I've been doing my whole career, stealing bases," Davis said. "I just try to go out and take advantage of opportunities."

Simon had all the run support he needed, though he did have to dodge a couple of land mines.

Three of the six hits were by his and the Tigers' nemesis, Michael Brantley. Brantley went 3-for-3 with a double and knocked in the only run off Simon. He is now 10-for-15 lifetime against Simon.

He led off the sixth with a double and was on third with one out and left-handed hitting Brandon Moss — he of the 7-RBI game Friday — coming up. As you might by now have guessed, Simon didn't panic.

Simon, who had been relying heavily on his splitter against left-handers, got two strikes on Moss with nasty two-seam fastballs on the inside corner. He then went back to the splitter to strike him out.

"Moss had already seen him a couple times, knowing in that situation, obviously less than two outs, you're trying to go for the strikeout," Avila said. "He made some good pitches on the inside corner with his two-seam fastball. You could tell Moss might have had it in the back of his mind looking for that split.

"Simon was able to make those (two-seam fastball) pitches inside to kind of get him off that and we were able to go back to it."

It was a brilliant bit of pitching.

Reliever Tom Gorzelanny had a similar encounter with Moss in the eighth. With Brantley at third and Carlos Santana at first, Moss represented the tying run with one out. Pitching coach Jeff Jones came out to the mound.

"When Jonesy came to the mound, kind of discussing what we wanted to do there, I said, 'Let's go first-pitch, fastball-sinker in, because I think sometimes Moss, you can catch him guessing," Avila said. "In that situation, normally you think lefty on lefty, first pitch breaking ball, but I thought maybe we could get him with the sinker, get a ground ball, double play.

"Couldn't write it up any better than that."

Moss hit it sharply to Kinsler in the hole, closer to first base. He and shortstop Jose Iglesias turned a tough play into a relatively easy-looking 4-6-3 double play.

"This was big," Avila said. "We needed to win. We didn't play good baseball the last four days. Today we were able to put a good game together. We got good pitching, made some nice plays on defense and got some big hits, so it was a good all-around game."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky