The mystery that is Alfredo Simon is not really a mystery at all. He showed again Sunday afternoon that what you see is what you get — if what you see is an on-again, off-again pitcher who was off again in a lopsided 11-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Camden Yards.
Remember how manager Buck Showalter shrugged off Simon's impressive performance Tuesday night?
Remember how he talked about "trust" and made it clear that Simon had not earned enough of it to be assured of a place in the starting rotation next spring?
That skepticism has been well-earned by a 30-year-old right-hander who can no longer fall back on his light major league experience to explain his wide-spectrum performance. He gave up just two runs and set a career high with nine strikeouts Tuesday after walking six in a four-inning, six-run performance five days earlier.
The pendulum swung back again Sunday in a five-inning, six-run effort that featured three home runs — two of them by leadoff hitter Erick Aybar.
"I think today was, what, his 14th start?" Showalter said. "His ERA is 4.80-ish. It's one of those things where we keep looking for guys to step up and put themselves in a position where you feel like you can trust them. Some starts make you feel better about that than others."
This one obviously wasn't one of them, but it wasn't one of Simon's worst performances. He walked just one batter and seemed to have passable command, but the Angels obviously didn't miss very many of his mistakes.
"I'm really good right now,'' Simon said. "I was happy with the game, but sometimes it's like backwards. So I just tried to throw strikes and I just got hit. There's no excuse for that. Sometimes it's going to happen. We try to just win the game and sometimes, it's going to be backwards. But I feel real good."
He may not feel so good, however, when the Commissioner's Office gets wind of his admission that he plunked Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo with a pitch in the first inning in retaliation for the two Orioles that Ervin Santana dusted on Saturday night.
"We just got hit yesterday and I'm going to defend my players,'' Simon said. "We just got hit hard and that's what happens in the game. I'm going to defend my hitters and my team, so that's what happened."
Both benches were warned after Simon hit Trumbo in the lower back, but no one was ejected when Brad Bergesen hit Angels catcher Jeff Mathis in the helmet with a pitch that was clearly inadvertent.
The Orioles were trying to complete a three-game sweep of the Angels, who are running out of time in their pursuit of the American League West title or a wild-card playoff berth. The situation was important enough that Angels manager Mike Scioscia sent pitching ace Jered Weaver to the mound on three days rest to stop the bleeding.
Weaver looked no worse for the short rest, throwing a strong six innings while his teammates hammered away at Simon and the Orioles bullpen.
"We're just focusing on trying to win games,'' he said after giving up two runs on six hits and throwing 97 pitches. "That's all we can control, how we play. We can't control how the other teams play."
Well, he seemed to have a lot of control over how the Orioles played Sunday, except when Vladimir Guerrero was at the plate. Guerrero bounced a triple past right fielder Torii Hunter to drive in a run in the first inning and hit a solo home run in the sixth to account for all of the Orioles scoring. The homer was the 449th of his career and moved him into a tie for 35th on the all-time list alongside Jeff Bagwell.
Guerrero has awakened with the bat just in time to push his average close to .300 (.293) and make a late-season bid for some free-agent interest this winter. He is batting .449 (22-for-49) in his past 13 games.
Not that it made a whole lot of difference. Aybar enjoyed the best offensive performance of his career, going 4-for-4 with the two home runs, a pair of doubles and five runs scored. It was his first multi-homer game and the five runs tied an Angels franchise record.
"It felt great to contribute,'' Aybar said through an interpreter. "It was a team effort."
The Angels moved to within four games of the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race, but time is running short on their attempt to catch the Rangers in the AL West. They have just 10 games remaining and need to pick up at least a couple of games on the Rangers over the coming week to be within striking distance when they close out the season with a three-game head-to-head series in Anaheim.
Aybar obviously felt a sense of urgency coming into Sunday's game.
"Everybody felt that way,'' he said. "We just lost two games in a row. This was a game we had to have. We have to keep winning."