Even when he was imprisoned for two months as the chief suspect in a fatal New Year's Day shooting in his native Dominican Republic, Orioles reliever Alfredo Simon was confident that this day would come.
Simon was activated from major league baseball's restricted list Saturday and was in the bullpen for the Orioles' afternoon game against the Washington Nationals.
"Right now, I feel really happy I'm back with my teammates," said Simon, who went 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three rehabilitation starts for Double-A Bowie. "I'm here to help my team win some games."
Standing in front of his locker before the game, Simon said he wouldn't take questions about his legal issues and would talk only about baseball, even though the situation might not be behind him.
Last week, the Associated Press in the Dominican Republic reported that the 30-year-old will stand trial. However, uncertainty remains, especially within the organization, because Simon hasn't been charged.
Regardless, Simon said his focus will be on baseball and helping an Orioles team badly in need of stability and innings from a battered relief corps. In the four games before Saturday's, the bullpen has allowed 22 earned runs in 221/3 innings
Asked whether it will be tough to deal with off-the-field distractions, Simon said: "I'm concentrating. My mind is clear, and every time I go out there, I'm going to do my job."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the club has talked to Simon and is confident that he'll be able to focus on his responsibilities.
"I don't have that concern at this point. I think he's ready to go," Showalter said. "He's been pitching pretty well over there, feels good physically and basically got through the spring training period. He provides something that we need, lengthwise."
Showalter was asked whether he felt that Simon was grateful for this opportunity and understands that his actions will be under scrutiny. The manager said, "My initial impressions are yes, but we'll see."
Simon has been greeted warmly by his teammates. He spent a long time before Saturday's game talking to fellow reliever Michael Gonzalez, who has been one of Simon's more vocal supporters.
"I feel happy because my teammates, they recognized me. Nothing changed," Simon said. "These are my teammates, and they like me. I love them, too. I'm happy."
However, Simon also knows fans' reaction to his presence will likely be significantly different.
"I know the fans are going to say a lot of things and whatever, but I'm not going to listen to them," he said. "I'm going to do my thing, the thing that I like. I'm going to take the ball and just do my job, do my thing."
Simon, whom the Orioles signed as a minor league free agent in 2008, went 4-2 with a 4.93 ERA and 17 saves in 49 relief appearances last season. Looking for rotation depth, the Orioles stretched out Simon as a starter after he got his visa issues worked out and reported to extended spring training in early April.
In three rehab starts for Bowie, Simon allowed six earned runs and 14 hits, walked five and struck out 17 in 16 innings. He pitched six shutout innings against Richmond in his final minor league outing Tuesday.
Orioles officials still consider him an option for the rotation, but their immediate need is in the bullpen and they plan to use Simon as a long reliever for the time being.
"Whatever they want me to do, I'll do," Simon said. "I can be a starter because all my career, I've been a starter, so it's not going to bother me. Right now, my arm feels strong. I'm ready to go. … I've got major league stuff, and I know when I was ready, they were going to bring me over here."