After posting a 1.58 ERA in the Southeastern Conference as a sophomore in 2011, right-hander D.J. Baxendale entered his junior season at the University of Arkansas with the look of an early-round Draft pick.
But he struggled with his mechanics and his ERA skyrocketed in the early going. As a result, he fell all the way to Minnesota in the 10th round.
The Twins were banking on the fact that the mechanical adjustments Baxendale made midway through the season would hold, and to this point, the former Razorback is rewarding the club for that faith.
On Tuesday, the 22-year-old paid dividends for another recent show of confidence, tossing seven one-run innings while picking up his first Double-A win as New Britain beat Richmond, 4-1.
Baxendale (1-1) allowed three hits and two walks while striking out seven. The Flying Squirrels' lone run came on Javier Herrera's solo home run in the fifth.
The start was Baxendale's second at Double-A. The hurler has rocketed through the Minor Leagues since being drafted last summer. He made six relief appearances with Rookie-level Elizabeth after signing before advancing to Class A Beloit. He closed out the year with 11 relief appearances there, posting a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings.
This year, the Twins began the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder in the rotation at Class A Advanced Fort Myers. He went 7-0 in nine starts with a 1.10 ERA and a 48-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 1/3 innings before being promoted to New Britain last week.
His first Double-A start didn't go well. Facing the same Richmond team he dominated Tuesday, Baxendale allowed eight runs -- seven earned -- on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings. He recorded just two strikeouts while struggling to command his fastball.
"My fastball didn't feel that great in that first start," he said. "I didn't feel like I had much movement or command with it, so I resorted to using my offspeed stuff. That got me into some bad counts, and good hitters will make you pay when you throw bad pitches with doubles and home runs."
He rebounded Tuesday with a more fastball-heavy approach. He said after the game that it helped to have a more advanced scouting report for a Richmond team he described as "kind of scary." It also helped that he felt more comfortable after spending the days between starts around his new team, easing some of the pressure that came with the promotion.
"It's always exciting when you get called up, but you kind of feel like you have to do well," he said. "It kind of went to my head and I tried to be too fine in my first start. [Tuesday], I just calmed down and pitched my game and stayed within myself."
Tuesday marked the latest strong outing in what has been a string of dominant performances since he adjusted his mechanics midway through his junior season at Arkansas. Baxendale's arm angles were off at the beginning of that season, and his campaign hit a low point as he allowed 12 earned runs in a two-game span against SEC rivals Mississippi State and LSU in late March.
"My arm angle started to drift downward and I was using two arm angles," Baxendale said. "One for my fastball, the other for my offspeed pitches. That was the reason for those struggles, and they picked up on it quickly in the SEC and made me pay for it."
Baxendale and Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn went to work on reconfiguring the right-hander's release to make the exit point more consistent. In short order, Baxendale was back to his 2011 form. Although his early struggles probably dropped him down some Draft boards, Baxendale has found consistent success in the Twins system.
"I never thought in my wildest dreams I would move up this fast," he said. "It's an unbelievable honor to be pitching in Double-A right now."