Detroit — Hard to say who needed this performance more, the Tigers’ weary bullpen, the Tigers’ suddenly deconstructed starting rotation or Alfredo Simon himself.
Call it a three-way tie.
Simon, who after a brilliant April has scuffled for the better part of three months, pitched his first career complete game, blanking the Rangers, 4-0, on one hit Thursday to extend the Tigers’ win streak to three games.
“I got good stuff and I believe in myself,” Simon said. “Every time I go out and try to do my job and win the game. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. But I feel more comfortable on the mound and I hope next time I do the same thing.”
Two starters were placed on the DL before the game — Daniel Norris (oblique) and Anibal Sanchez (rotator cuff strain). To fill one of the spots, the Tigers acquired veteran left-hander Randy Wolf from the Blue Jays.
Their bullpen, fortified before the game with Triple A call-ups Guido Knudson and Jose Valdez, was spent, having worked 15 innings the last three games.
If ever they needed Simon to be a rock, this was the night.
He didn’t disappoint.
“It was probably the best he’s pitched all year,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “What I really liked was the pace of his game today. He got the ball, got his next pitch — there was less dead time and the defense was more into it, at least in theory.
“It was the best game he’s thrown both in results and in mound presence."
Pitching coach Jeff Jones has spent considerable time trying to get Simon to work quicker on the mound. The message finally hit home.
“I think that was important,” catcher James McCann said. “It played into his command, played into the fact that the defense was on its toes. It helped everyone. He did a very good job of using all his pitches and commanding them in the zone.”
Simon didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, when, with two outs, Roughned Odor slapped one into right field that he legged out for a double. J.D. Martinez's throw to second appeared to have Odor out, but shortstop Jose Iglesias couldn't apply the tag.
Other than a pair of walks, and two miscues in the field (errors by Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez at first), that was it. He was deftly mixing his splitter, curveball and cutter off a well-placed fastball that was hitting 93-94 mph through the ninth inning.
“That started with him establishing the fastball from the get-go,” McCann said. “They weren't able to sit soft. They had to respect the fastball.”
Simon had the Rangers swinging off their front foot the entire night. Even when he was behind in the count, he was able to get awkward and unbalanced swings.
“I had good rhythm with all my pitches,” Simon said. “When I was behind in the count and they were looking for fastballs, I was able to throw my off-speed for strikes. That helped me a lot.”
And who saw it coming? In his three previous starts he allowed 14 runs and 17 hits in 17.1 innings. Which is why Ausmus tempered his post-game praise just a bit.
“I will reserve judgment until his next start,” Ausmus said. “Let’s see if he keeps up the same pace and see what type of results he has.”
The Tigers offense came in single runs in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings.
Nick Castellanos, coming off a four-hit, two-home run, five-RBI night in Chicago, came to bat with the bases loaded his first two times up. He singled in a run in the first and hit a sacrifice fly in the third.
Each time it was Miguel Cabrera (walk and a single) and Victor Martinez (single, double) setting the table.
Kinsler led off the fifth with a triple and scored on Cabrera’s single.
In the seventh, Rangers pitcher Anthony Bass — Trenton native and Wayne State product — was victimized by Rajai Davis’ speed. Davis led off the inning by turning a routine single to left-center field into a double, beating the throw from center fielder Delino DeShields.
He took third on Kinsler’s ground-out to short. He waited for Elvis Andrus to throw to first before breaking for third. Then he scored on Victor Martinez’s sacrifice fly.
“It’s nice,” Ausmus said of the Tigers’ first three-game win streak in two months. “It was a nice two-game series for us in Chicago, and it’s a good way to start this series. But we’ve got to come back tomorrow. Hopefully Justin (Verlander) is on his game again and we play good baseball.
“But I’m not ready to throw a parade.”