Simon stifles Astros, Tigers win third straight

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Alfredo Simon might be built for Comerica Park, or vice-versa.

Either way, he seems awfully comfortable on the mound within the spacious confines.

"It's a park for pitchers," Simon said after he put a vice-grip on the Astros and the Tigers won their third straight, 6-2, Friday night. "When I get behind in the count here, I can throw fastballs. It's a big park and hitters just hit fly balls. It's not easy to hit home runs here."

In four home starts, Simon is 3-0. He has allowed just three earned runs in 28-2/3 innings with 21 strikeouts.

"He did a heck of a job," said catcher James McCann, whose two-out, two-run single helped break the game open in the eighth. "Early on, I think he was a little frustrated with his location, he wasn't able to find really his fastball or his splitter. He found a way to adjust and went deep into the ballgame and gave us a chance to win."

Simon went seven innings, allowed four hits and both runs were unearned. He even showcased a new trick from his seemingly endless repertoire. In the second inning he struck out Chris Carter with a 79 mph slurve (part slider part curve), which he threw from a three-quarter arm angle.

"It's like Forrest Gump says," manager Brad Ausmus said, "Alfredo Simon is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get; what pitch or what arm angle."

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Astros 2

The two runs were scored in the third, just as it seemed Simon had worked around a leadoff double by Jason Castro. But with two outs, second baseman Ian Kinsler uncharacteristically booted a relatively routine ground ball. Castro scored and then George Springer followed with an RBI double.

From there, though, Simon allowed just one more hit through seven.

"After the error I just looked to attack the hitter," Simon said. "I just tried to lock in and put zeros on the board. J.D. Martinez helped me out a lot."

That he did. The former Astro changed the direction of the game with a two-out blast in the third inning.

Down 2-0, the Tigers put the first two men on against right-hander Collin McHugh, who had won 12 of his last 13 decisions before Friday. The opportunity was all but wasted after Kinsler flew out and Miguel Cabrera fanned.

Martinez, who went 0-for-5 Thursday, hit the first pitch from McHugh, a curveball, high, far but foul down the left-field line. Second pitch was a fastball and he drove it into the seats in right field for his ninth home run of the season.

"I just felt relaxed," he said. "I didn't feel any pressure in that at-bat. I was just up there trying to stick to my plan, which was get a pitch up. And both of those pitches were up."

He had been hit by a pitch, the ball barely grazing his jersey, in the first. So after the homer, he heard some good-natured jawing from catcher Jason Castro.

"Yeah, he was giving me a hard time about that first at-bat when I was hit by the pitch," Martinez said. "He said, 'If we're going to hit you, we might as well make it sting a little bit.' He was like, 'How'd you even feel it hit you?' And I said, "I don't know, I just felt it.'

"It was kind of funny."

Especially when you get the last laugh. But Martinez didn't take any extra glee hitting one off his former mates, even though they did unceremoniously designate him for assignment two years ago.

"It's nice to hit a home run against anybody," he said. "Against the Astros, I don't know. I feel like I squashed that last year. I didn't want them to get the best of me. Everything happens for a reason, I firmly believe that.

"God took me through that journey and I learned a lot from it. I am here now and I am just trying to help this team win games."

Between that home run and the eighth inning, there was a whole lot of missed opportunity.

The Tigers stranded Cabrera at second in the first, Anthony Gose was thrown out at home in the fifth and Jose Iglesias was stranded at third in the seventh.

The Tigers nearly stole that run with Gose in the fifth. Gose had doubled and went to third on a ground out. Cabrera worked a 10-pitch walk. Martinez fell into a quick 0-2 hole. The next pitch was in the dirt, but it didn't roll far. Still, Cabrera broke for second.

Castro threw to second and Gose broke home. Second baseman Jose Altuve made a strong throw home and Gose was out on a close play.

"Bad slide," Gose said.

"It didn't work out but it was a good, aggressive play by both runners," Ausmus said.

Meanwhile, Joba Chamberlain came on in the eighth inning of a one-run game and kept it right there. With his hard slider biting as sharply as it has all season, he got the top of the Astros order — Jose Altuve, Luis Valbuena and George Springer — without a fuss.

"When you continuously get out there on the mound, things start picking up and you get a better feel for things," Chamberlain said.

The Tigers finally broke through in the bottom of the eighth, but it was gift-wrapped. After Cabrera led off with a single, Yoenis Cespedes bounced one down the third base line that eluded third baseman Valbueba — scored a two-base error.

After Nick Castellanos struck out, Rajai Davis beat out an infield hit to score Cabrera.

McCann, the hero from Thursday, followed with a two-run single.

"That was enormous," Ausmus said. "To go from a one-run lead to a four-run lead with three outs to go — the price tag is pretty huge on something like that."