A's Simmons Finds Relief In Bullpen Role

OAKLAND—Finally, after all these years, things have started going right for James Simmons.

The 2007 first-round pick (26th overall) has endured a struggle through the farm system, battling injuries and ailments. Now the gloom seems to have lifted, and Simmons may be back on track for the majors.

Simmons, 26, put together a 1.59 ERA and an 0.44 WHIP in 11 relief innings at the Arizona Fall League. He is scheduled to report to the A's spring mini-camp, which will run concurrently to big league spring training, so he should have opportunities to pitch in spring major league games.

A 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthander with pinpoint control of his 92 mph fastball, Simmons made a big early impression when he pitched at Double-A after signing in 2007. He returned to Double-A in 2008 and held his own, then advanced to Triple-A the next year.

But Simmons had a variety of problems. He was troubled by sleep apnea, and his pitching shoulder began deteriorating. He could never find a consistent breaking ball to complement his fastball and changeup.

The shoulder broke down during the 2009 season. Surgeons discovered a number of problems, including fraying of the labrum and bursitis. He was able to return as a starter during 2011, before the decision to move him to the bullpen last year.

"I've been trying to learn to pitch again," Simmons said. "I've been trying to repeat my arm slot and delivery. Sometimes I drop my arm, and the ball sails up. That's been the hardest part of the whole rehab, being able to repeat my arm action and slot. But the more I throw, the better I get."

Something else important has happened. That elusive breaking ball has started to develop. After much tinkering, Simmons settled on a cutter, which at times he tweaks into a slurvier pitch. That helped him put together a 2.98 ERA and 1.18 WHIP out of the bullpen for Double-A Midland and earned him his AFL gig.

"Toward the end, I felt I had pretty good command of both (breaking balls)," Simmons said. "I think the Fall League helped me out with those two pitches."

A's Acorns

• The minor league mini-camp will begin Feb. 13 for pitchers and catchers, then six days later for position players. The A's will bring in 18 pitchers and 11 position players to give them a jump on spring training.

• Oakland added to its minor league power supply by acquiring corner infielder Jefry Marte from the Mets for outfielder Collin Cowgill. The A's needed a spot on their 40-man, and Cowgill had little chance of cracking a deep A's outfield this year.