Orioles right-hander Alfredo Simon pitches for Double-A Bowie… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
BOWIE — In between the hoagie toss and the Justin Bieber trivia contest, Bowie Baysox starter Alfredo Simon finally returned to affiliated baseball Thursday afternoon, roughly two months after being released from a Dominican Republic prison.
Simon's return was uneventful on the mound — where he allowed four runs (three earned) in five solid innings — and in the stands, where roughly half of the 3,312 in attendance at Prince George's Stadium were elementary and middle schoolers here for Baseball in Education Day.
They were seemingly more interested in the carousel in the kid's park beyond right field than the 6-foot-6 right-handed on the mound who was pitching before a paying crowd for the first time since he became a suspect in the fatal Jan. 1 shooting of his cousin in the Dominican Republic town of Luperon.
After the Double-A Baysox lost to the Harrisburg Senators, 8-6, the soft-spoken Simon read a brief statement in Spanish to a small gathering of reporters before answering baseball-only questions. He never specifically mentioned the death of Michael Castillo Almonte or the wounding of Almonte's 17-year-old half-brother during an early-morning New Year's Day celebration.
"I want to take this opportunity to apologize to my sport, to the entire Baltimore Orioles organization, the owner, general manager, the front office, coaches, my teammates, sponsors, and the fans for the recent distraction that my personal circumstances have caused," Simon said in a statement that was also released in English. "In time, I will address the issue publicly. … I ask for your patience and understanding and hope that you will grant me the privacy to deal with the matter appropriately."
Simon has not been charged in the shooting but was detained for about two months before getting his release and traveling to the United States on a work visa in early April. The case has not been resolved, but for now, Simon is free to play baseball and attempt a return to the majors.
"I have worked very hard to come back and be a part of this organization and intend to have a positive impact on everyone around me. I realize as an athlete, that it is not only playing the game of baseball that matters, but being a role model both on and off the field is a self-requirement," he said. "I have overcome many obstacles in my life to get where I am today. This difficult situation will only act to motivate me to be a better person."
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who was at Thursday's game along with director of player development John Stockstill and director of baseball operations Matt Klentak, said having Simon pitch again, when he's ready, makes sense.
"There was no charge or anything," MacPhail said, "and I don't think you can deny the opportunity for employment if he hasn't been charged with anything."
Simon, who is still on baseball's restricted list, is expected to pitch again for Bowie against Richmond on Wednesday. It's likely he will pitch in the minors for the next two-plus weeks and, by roughly May 22, will have to be promoted to the Orioles' 25-man roster or be released.
The Orioles could put him on their 40-man roster and attempt to send him to the minors, but he would have to clear waivers first. If he clears waivers in that scenario, he could elect to become a free agent without any further compensation from the Orioles or maintain his current contract and accept a minor league assignment. Through an agreement among the Orioles, the players union, Major League Baseball, and Simon's agent, the pitcher has begun collecting a salary of about $227,000, which is a prorated amount of what he made in 2010.
Simon had been pitching in extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla., and was scheduled to throw 75 to 80 pitches Thursday. He ended up with 81 (56 for strikes) while throwing his fastball primarily in the 92 to 94 mph range while mixing in a lot of curveballs and sliders. He gave up six hits and struck out five, walked none, hit a batter and threw two wild pitches.
"Clearly, he's starting to go through a spring training," MacPhail said. "It seems to me he ran out of gas there a little bit, pretty much what you would expect for someone who's getting the competitive juices flowing pretty much for the first time."
The first batter he faced demonstrated that Simon's 2011 roller coaster hasn't stopped.
He struck out Senators leadoff hitter Chris Rahl on four pitches, but the fourth skipped to the backstop and Rahl reached first safely. Simon immediately picked Rahl off first base. Simon also was charged with one run in the first when center fielder Xavier Avery dropped a fly ball that was ruled a double.
Overall, Simon said, "I just feel comfortable with every pitch that I throw. I just feel great."
Simon, who saved 17 games for the Orioles last year, is being used as a starter and could fill that, or a middle-relief, role in the majors.
"He's got a couple more weeks at least of rehabs and trying to stretch him out," MacPhail said. "We'd like to give ourselves the option of being able to build him up as a starter, and he can always go in the bullpen from there."
Right now, he said, he's just excited to be back on a mound facing hitters in what has been a difficult year so far for Simon, who turns 30 on Sunday.
Although it was kids day in Bowie, Simon's presence — and his back story — wasn't completely lost on fans.
"I was planning to come here anyway. But I read in the paper that Simon was going to pitch," said Phil Michel, a baseball fan from Gambrills. "It's crazy … the whole situation. But unless he is actually charged with something or convicted of something, he should be able to pitch."
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.