CHICAGO --- The Reds decided to stretch out Alfredo Simon as a starter in Spring Training in case of injury or a lack of rotation depth.
And has that decision paid off. Simon had started a handful of games in his career, so it was a sound choice -- but nobody could have expected this sort of dominance.
A staple in the Reds' bullpen the past two seasons, Simon continued his masterful pitching as a fill-in starter for the injured Mat Latos on Friday at blustery Wrigley Field. Simon scattered four hits over six-plus relatively stress-free innings, allowing one unearned run to outduel Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija and lead the Reds to a 4-1 win in front of 28,699 chilled fans.
Simon lowered his ERA to 0.86 in three starts while setting a career-high scoreless-innings streak of 12. Entering the season, Simon had made 19 career starts and none since 2011.
"Extremely impressed," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "I know that he was a waiver-claim guy for us, and I think he pitched in 36 games in 2012 for us out of the bullpen and about 60 last year, but he has been remarkable. He's wanted more opportunity, we've given that to him.
"I think it was a good idea that we brought him into camp in case we had an injury or didn't have the depth, and our good fortune is that he came in ready to go and had a great spring and is off to a good start."
Price and the Reds can only hope the win didn't come at a greater cost. Cincinnati already leads the Majors with eight players opening the season on the disabled list, and Brandon Phillips was removed in the third inning with back spasms. Phillips will be reevaluated Saturday.
"Well, we hope that it's not so severe that he can't play tomorrow," Price said. "But he wanted to play, wanted to stay in -- I just felt like it wasn't a very good idea. That second at-bat, you could see there was some discomfort, so I didn't see it getting any better. ... I just didn't think it was a great idea, so we got him out of there."
Simon ran into his only real trouble in the seventh before Sam LeCure came in to limit the damage. He appeared to be losing steam and thus struggling with his command at the end of an otherwise stellar start.
Starlin Castro led off with a single and moved to second on Todd Frazier's error. In came LeCure, who struck out Welington Castillo looking and followed by serving up an RBI single to Luis Valbuena, cutting Cincinnati's lead to 3-1 and snapping the Cubs' 24-inning scoreless streak. LeCure shut the door with a groundout by Ryan Kalish and a strikeout of Emilio Bonifacio.
"I was on the fence on if I wanted him to go back out in the seventh, because he wasn't real sharp in the sixth, but he managed the inning well," Price said of Simon. "And I felt like the one thing we wanted to do was give him a shot to go out there and start the inning, see if you could get a couple of quick outs for us, but we knew we had LeCure behind us and that ended up playing out pretty well."
Simon also benefited from a 12-mph wind blowing in from left and center fields. Castro put a charge into one in the second inning, but it died on the warning track in left and would have been gone on many other days. It was 38 degrees at first pitch with a wind chill of 32 degrees.
"It was really cold, but I didn't really focus on the weather," said Simon, who walked two and struck out three. "I just tried to throw a lot of fastballs because the wind [was] blowing [in], so I tried to throw the ball down in the zone and make it a ground ball or fly ball."
The Reds took advantage of two Cubs errors to score two unearned runs in the sixth. Cubs manager Rick Renteria decried his team's play as "sloppy," perhaps also alluding to a botched pickoff of Frazier in the eighth that led to one of Cincinnati's five stolen bases.
Jay Bruce led off the sixth with a double, and Ryan Ludwick reached two batters later on catcher's interference. Devin Mesoraco walked to load the bases with one out before Zack Cozart hit a chopper to third. Valbuena went to second for one out and Bonfiacio sailed his throw wide of first, scoring Bruce and Ludwick to extend Cincinnati's lead to 3-0.
"I think it's a good learning curve for us to understand to win games in the big leagues we need all three facets of the game to be clean," Renteria said. "You play the good teams and they take advantage of your mistakes, and you can't give them any breathing room."
Billy Hamilton broke a scoreless tie with an RBI double in the fifth. Mesoraco led off the inning with a single to left and stole second, just the second steal of his career and first since 2012. With two outs, Hamilton doubled to left-center field and just out of the reach of a diving Junior Lake, scoring Mesoraco.
And so the Reds' dominance of the Cubs -- in particular at Wrigley Field -- continued. Cincinnati has won 16 of its last 17 games at the Friendly Confines and is now 24-6 in its last 30 games against the Cubs dating back to 2012. Price couldn't come up with an explanation for those numbers.
"We've been in a million different types of games here the last few years, and somehow we've ended up on top," he said. "But believe me: we don't take it for granted that we're coming in here to win all the games."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.