Simcox delivers as Mesa clinches spot in AFL title game

November 15th, 2017

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- With a pair of RBI doubles in the sixth and eighth innings, A.J. Simcox helped the Mesa Solar Sox come away with a win and the East division title on Wednesday at Surprise Stadium.

The Solar Sox improved their record to 16-12-1 with a 5-2 win over Surprise and will play at Scottsdale Stadium in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game at 3:08 p.m. ET on Saturday.

"We've got a really good group of guys, we've got a lot of chemistry over the past month and we're playing well," Simcox said. "We had a good idea we were going to be going to the 'ship a couple weeks ago. We thought we had the team for it. … We're excited."

Box score

Technically, Mesa clinched the East division in the eighth inning by virtue of Salt River's loss to Glendale, but the club was not aware of that until the game ended.

Simcox, a Tigers prospect, is hitting just .194 through 26 games in the Arizona Fall League, but has been working on his swing and the results have been paying off lately.

The 23-year-old has hits in four of his past five games, including his 2-for-4, three-RBI effort on Wednesday.

"We've just been continuously working in the cages," Simcox said. "Trying to get the ball out in front a little more, clean up my bat path and get a little more consistent with it and I think there's been a little fruition in the work ethic."

The extra work was evident Wednesday as Simcox gave his club the lead with a two-run double off the left field wall in the sixth, then showed some opposite-field power as he drove in a run with a double to right field in the eighth.

Simcox, a 14th-round pick from the 2015 Draft, hit .250 with eight homers in 125 games with Double-A Erie this season, but it's also worth noting that he improved his approach and plate discipline. After his strikeout rate jumped to 19 percent in 2016, Simcox cut it down to 15.2 percent this year and has continued to work on that in Arizona.

"I've felt pretty good about it, I could still clean it up more," Simcox said. "I think I get over-aggressive at times, but it's still a work in progress and I'm looking forward to what the future holds."

Prior to Simcox's RBI doubles -- and 's (Athletics) RBI single in the ninth -- the Mesa offense was held in check.

Surprise starter Jordan Hicks (Cardinals' No. 14) had spent the entirety of the Fall League coming out of the bullpen, but made his first start and was dominant.

The 21-year-old right-hander reached triple digits several times and topped out at 102.6 mph. Hicks threw 29 of his 43 pitches for strikes and hasn't given up and gave up just one unearned run, while allowing two hits, over three innings.

"He's got a very electric arm," Simcox said. "We didn't necessarily know that he was throwing that hard and then we got a little confirmation. He's a very impressive pitcher on the mound."

Oscar Mercado, the Cardinals' No. 18 prospect, provided the offense for Surprise as he had an RBI double in the first and scored on an error in the sixth.