NEW BRITAIN - Simon says was a commonly used phrase when Kyle Simon started a game for the New Britain Bees last season. He pitched and the opponents usually had little luck.
This year, Simon has not said. And Simon is still working, still waiting.
It has been a slow start for last season’s Atlantic League ERA leader, hampered in part by a lack of spring training. Entering Wednesday, Simon has yet to begin a game on the mound and spent the early part of the year piggybacking off of Jonathan Pettibone, who was returning from shoulder issues.
Through the first 18 games of the season, the right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four appearances out of the bullpen.
“I’m gearing up to start,” Simon said. "I’m probably going to come out of the bullpen one more time and build up from that. Not having a spring training just to build up my arm strength kind of set me back.”
Last season with the Bees, Simon was their most consistent starter from the start of the season to the end, going 8-6 in 20 starts. He also finished with an Atlantic League-best 2.76 ERA in 120 1/3 innings on the mound.
“We’ve just had to build up his arm,” New Britain manager Stan Cliburn said. “I think he’s close. He’s just hasn’t been not quite there. But he’s waiting in the wings.”
When Casey Coleman was signed out by the Houston Astros organization less than two weeks into the season, it looked as though it was the perfect opportunity for Simon to slide into the rotation. That spot went to Jason Jarvis, who has made two starts since.
Another opportunity appeared to have it presented itself during the team’s six-game trip down to Sugar Land, Texas with the Bees wanting to avoid the Skeeters seeing a starting pitcher twice in the same series. But that went to Mike Lee, who was brought in and signed following Coleman’s departure.
Simon could find himself starting on Saturday against Long Island, but that will come down to either himself, Lee or Pettibone.
“We’re trying to figure the full rotation out,” Simon said. “But I’m going to do whatever makes the team better. If they need me to start again, which I’m working towards, I’m going to do that.”
The relief role is nothing new to Simon. He spent three seasons as a reliever with the Philadelphia Phillies organization from 2012-2014 after coming over from Baltimore’s and his first year in the Atlantic League in 2015, he came out of the bullpen for the Lancaster Barnstormers.
“Having done it all last year, it’s a little bit different,” Simon said. “But the four to five years before that, I was a reliever so it’s a little different mentality. I just have to get comfortable on the mound.”
But last season was the first chance he had to be a consistent starter for the first time since the beginning of 2012 when he made 14 starts for the Frederick Keys, the Orioles High-A team. After the success he had, Simon’s goal is to be able to throw the same amount, if not more innings than he was able to in 2016. The team, however, he said has to be successful as well and he has to be healthy to do so.
“Last year I was going six, seven, eight [innings] a game and I’m just trying to get back to that ’cause even though I don’t mind going out there for just two or three [innings] a game, I’d rather start a game,” Simon said. “But I’m just going to do whatever is best for the team and try to stay healthy.
“That’s the biggest thing. I battled through some injuries last year and maintaining health is the biggest thing going forward and making sure our team is in a position to win when I am pitching.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach