DETROIT -- At 34 years and 104 days, Alfredo Simon is the second-oldest Detroit Tigers pitcher to throw his first shutout. He is paced by only Steve Sparks, who did it at the age of 35 years and 104 days. It's been an up and down season for Simon. After he started out strong, Simon had struggled with a combination of his command, velocity, and an injury. But on Thursday, Simon had "that look in his eyes" from the get-go, according to James McCann.
"That's probably the best he's pitched all year, I think," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after Thursday's 4-0 win over the Rangers. "What I really liked was kind of the pace of his game today. He got the ball, got on the mound, got his next pitch. With less dead time, the defense is more into it, in theory. I just thought it was the best game he's thrown -- both the results, and his mound presence."
Simon allowed just one hit across nine frames. That's the lowest number of hits yielded by a starter this year, and just the third shutout of the season. David Price and Anibal Sanchez have the other two, both which happened back in June. For a Tigers team that's found momentum to be an elusive concept to grasp, Simon's shutout gave them just that. Detroit now has its first three-game winning streak since June 21-23, but now the team has to maintain it.
The performance was as much about the command of Simon's pitches as it was about the pace he kept. Typically Simon has worked at a languishingly slow pace on the mound. He's gotten behind in counts and walked too many batters. None of that was glaringly present on Thursday night. In fact, it was the best start of Simon's career.
"I threw aggressive, like my fastball," Simon said. "That's when I confused the hitter. When I threw my split aggressively to the home plate, they think it's a fastball. When I throw the ball down everything is acceptable. Tonight I threw everything for a strike, my breaking ball, slider, two-seamer. Everything worked really good."
While he went into the ninth with 104 pitches, Simon didn't realize he'd approached that number because he'd been in such command all night. He made quick work of the majority of hitters, and even in the fifth when he gave up his only hit, and a walk that followed, Simon felt no pressure. The only hit he gave up was a double on a splitter to Rougned Odor. There was no change in Simon's approach, both he and McCann said.
As much as the Tigers needed this win, the bullpen needed the night off just as badly. They've been more than taxed of late, and with the loss of Sanchez and Daniel Norris to the disabled list, a rough start was not an option for Simon. He did not disappoint.
"He established his fastball early," McCann said. "He attacked the zone with it, and that set up his offspeed. After he's already established his heater, being able to command the breaking ball the way he did and how sharp the breaking ball was today, and then throwing a splitter -- that right there shows you why he had the success that he did."
There was no injury to contend with, all of Simon's pitches worked well for him, and the Tigers offense provided the necessary run support. While it paled in comparison to the previous two outings for the offense, it still got the job done. And getting the job done was desperately needed coming off back-to-back sweeping wins against a Cubs team that wouldn't give up.
Whether Simon can keep this up won't be known until his following starts. Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones had been working with Simon on his pace on the mound, and while that may very well have contributed to Simon's solid start on Thursday, it remains to be seen for the future. Equally important is Simon's health and whether he's truly bounced back from not just the injury, but the inconsistencies on the mound. It's one win. One three-game winning streak. But it's a start. You gotta start somewhere.
"We're chipping away," Ausmus said. "But there's a lot of chipping to go."