Simpson Ecstatic to be Back on the Mound

After suffering from a bout of mononucleosis and being bed-ridden for several weeks last summer, right-hander Hayden Simpson was anxious to get back on the hill when the 2011 season started.

The Cubs' first-round draft pick from Division II Southern Arkansas University in 2010 made his professional debut at Class-A Peoria in the Midwest League last month and through five starts is 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in 21 1/3 innings.

He recently spoke to about his return to the mound.

Q: How frustrating was it being sidelined last year with mono?

A: It was about as frustrating as anything can possibly get. You work your entire life and your entire high school and college career to get that opportunity. For it to happen the way it did with the first-round selection, and then all of a sudden with zero control over anything, it just hit me. It hit me as bad as it possibly could. I'd never even really been sick. I'd never even missed practice from being sick, so it was tough. Pretty much every doctor we went to said, "You know, you're going to have to stay in bed for a very long time." Then I didn't get over it as quickly as everybody anticipated and it just made it worse.

Q: How long were you bed-ridden?

A: For about two months or so, I didn't do anything.

Q: Wow. Did the doctors tell you how you came in contact with this virus?

A: There are certain factors that can make it flare up, and they said there were a number of different things it could have been. During the (college) baseball season, I'd gotten really sick during the year. I'd missed some classes for about two weeks, but I never stopped playing. I finally started feeling better, and what they think happened was I'd gotten a (less serious) case of mono then and then relapsed later. That's why it was so much worse and why I had it for so long.

Q: This being your first season, were you expecting to head to Peoria right away or spend some time in extended spring training?

A: I didn't think I was going to be in extended (spring training) at all. Nobody had really ever said that, and I was throwing well enough in the spring so that was never really a thought of mine. They could have done it and I guess I could have understood why, but that thought never came to me and was never expressed to me.

Q: How would you describe your first Spring Training and being out in Arizona with so many new faces and new surroundings?

A: It was fun. It was different at first being from such a small place. I kept an open mind about it and it was fun. I enjoyed it a lot and learned a lot and continue to carry everything over into the season and I've continued to have fun with the game. Spring Training was good, it was fun, and it was a learning experience for sure.

Q: What's been the big thing you've worked on with the pitching coaches thus far?

A: It's been about trying to get back into form to where I was toward the end of my college career last year and trying to get back and stay healthy and continue to get my arm strength back.

Q: On that front, how well have you progressed?

A: It's going good. My velocity's still not back up to where I would like it to be. It's still early and hasn't really gotten warm yet and I was one of those guys that threw every day, even during the offseason. I would always be throwing and for that six-month period, I did little to no throwing at all so I knew it was going to take some time. Everybody has been patient with me. I think it's helped me with pitching and with settling down, focusing, and realizing locations and throwing certain pitches in counts because I don't have the 95 mph fastball right now to fall back on when I need it, but I think it's going to help toughen me up.

Q: Through five starts, you had 20 strikeouts to six walks. Have you been pleased with the control and the strikeouts vs. walks so far?

A: I haven't really pitched to a strikeout all year. I've pitched to let my defense play and the strikeouts have just happened. I would have liked to see a little less walks, because there have been several of them that could have easily been avoided if I'd focused on one or two pitches more and not lost focus on pitches.

Q: What kind of pitch counts are you on for now?

A: It's 70.

Q: I read someone say your secondary pitches kind of get lost in the shadow of your fastball. Would you agree with that?

A: Not so much. Right now, we're focusing on three pitches and I actually haven't thrown my slider all year. I've always thought that was my second best pitch and we're focusing on fastball, curveball, changeup right now. But my secondary pitches, I don't think they get lost in the shuffle. In the past, in my college career, I think maybe I would rely on my fastball a little more because I could, but I think throughout the first five starts of this year, I've learned how to use my other pitches.

Q: What secondary pitches would you say are working the best for you right now, and which do you feel need the most work?

A: Right now, it's probably my curveball and changeup both. I'm throwing them both about the same amount a game. I'm throwing more fastballs right now than I am anything else, but I've used my curveball and changeup the same amount and am getting more strikeouts on my curveball because I'm using my changeup and fastball to set it up.

Q: What kind of goals have you set for yourself this year?

A: My main goal for this year was to stay healthy. I want to stay healthy the whole year and not run into any problems because of anything that's happened. I want to get back into form where I was at the end of my college career that's gotten me to where I'm at, and I want to build off that. I want to learn. With Jeff Fassero being here, I've learned from him every time we go out in bullpen sessions and stuff. I want to go out and perform as best as I can, but every time I go out I also want to learn something different.

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