Although his place in the rotation was once considered temporary, Alfredo Simon has made a convincing case to stay long-term by continuing to string together outstanding performances.
The right-hander can match his victory total as a starter from his previous six seasons Wednesday night, seeking his third win in four starts as the Cincinnati Reds visit the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Simon (2-1, 0.86 ERA) made 99 relief appearances without a big-league start over the past two years and won just three of his 19 starts in his first four seasons. However, he earned a spot as the fifth starter heading into 2014 with Mat Latos recovering from elbow and knee injuries.
While it's uncertain when Latos will return, the Reds (9-11) aren't likely to be in a hurry to move Simon back to the bullpen. He has been one of the NL's top starters early on, giving up one run and going at least six innings in each of his three outings.
Simon, among the league leaders in ERA and opponent batting average (.178), allowed an unearned run and four hits over six-plus innings in a 4-1 road win over the Cubs on Friday.
"I think it was a good idea that we brought him into camp to start in case we had an injury or didn't have the depth," manager Bryan Price said. "And our good fortune is that he came in ready to go and had a great spring and is off to a good start."
With Simon leading the way, Cincinnati starters have a 2.75 ERA that ranks among the best marks in the majors. The rotation has been particularly effective during the team's current 5-2 stretch, posting a 2.03 ERA while limiting opponents to a .189 average.
Johnny Cueto delivered the latest gem with a three-hitter in Tuesday's 4-1 win that evened this four-game series with the Pirates (9-12) at one apiece.
Simon has pitched well in Pittsburgh with a 1.54 ERA over seven relief appearances, including 1 1-3 scoreless innings in the Pirates' 6-2 win in last season's NL wild-card game.
Travis Snider is 5 for 11 lifetime when facing Simon and could be in the lineup again while he appeals a two-game suspension for his role in Sunday's brawl with Milwaukee. Russell Martin, also expected to challenge his one-game suspension, is hitless in seven career at-bats against Simon and 0 for 6 in this series.
Andrew McCutchen has gone 5 for 6 with two home runs in the two games, leaving him 12 for 24 with three homers over a six-game hitting streak versus Cincinnati.
The Pirates, who have dropped nine of 12, are hoping starter Charlie Morton (0-2, 4.32) can get on track after giving up 14 runs over 19 innings in his last three outings. He allowed five runs over six frames in a 5-3 home loss to Milwaukee on Friday.
"I'd throw these pitches and be like, 'Where the heck did that come from?'" the right-hander said. "Those are just total misfires out of nowhere. Even some of the strikes I was throwing (were) just misses."
Morton hasn't had much success of late against the Reds, going 1-2 with a 5.03 ERA in his last four starts.
Todd Frazier is 5 for 9 against Morton since 2011, while Jay Bruce is 4 for 9 the past two seasons. Frazier is 6 for 11 in his last three games overall and Bruce has gone 8 for 17 over his last four with one RBI in each.
The Reds have averaged 6.1 runs with a .309 batting average in their last nine games.