Austin Bibens-Dirkx is getting a second chance and a new lease on life in the Minor Leagues.
The Tennessee starter allowed just one hit over seven shutout innings as the Smokies defeated the Barons, 3-0, on Tuesday.
After beginning his career with the Mariners organization back in 2006, Bibens-Dirkx found himself playing independent ball in British Columbia before the Cubs signed him last July.
Now the right-hander has allowed just three hits without yielding a run over his last two starts and boasts a 2.05 ERA in the Double-A Southern League. He's also been getting some pretty good advice.
"Having Greg Maddux as one of the guys in the organization is nice," Bibens-Dirkx said of the four-time Cy Young winner-turned-Cubs special assistant. "I sat down with him after my last start, and the knowledge he has is ridiculous. He was predicting pitches before they would happen and what the results would be. He talked with me about philosophy and when to throw certain pitches in different counts. It's nice to have him around."
The early returns are good. After retiring 17 consecutive hitters in his previous start, Bibens-Dirkx sat down the final 13 Birmingham batters he faced Tuesday with his fastball-slider-changeup repertoire.
"My catcher (Steve Clevenger) called a good game," said Bibens-Dirkx. "He knew these guys pretty well and my defense came through. I was throwing everything for strikes."
In addition to the three-pitch arsenal, Bibens-Dirkx has the ability to drop his shoulder and pitch from a lower arm angle.
"I started doing it in high school," he said. "When I got to the Mariners, they wanted me to focus on a normal delivery. I picked it up again in independent ball and now I'm doing it with the Cubs."
While Bibens-Dirkx is a successful starter in the Cubs organization now, he struggled as a reliever with the Mariners' affiliates. He had a 7.95 ERA with High Desert in 2008 after posting a 4.42 ERA with the Mavericks in '07.
"They did try to change my delivery. I had surgery and, the year after, I struggled and didn't have confidence and that is detrimental to a pitcher," he said. "I just didn't have it. That was ultimately the reason and they had younger guys and it was a numbers issue."
After having arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, Bibens-Dirkx rediscovered his sidearm delivery with the Golden Baseball League's Victoria Seals and eventually pitched well enough to catch Chicago's attention.
"There's a lot of ex-Double-A and Triple-A guys in that league," Bibens-Dirkx said. "The late Jose Lima was in that league. There are a lot of good guys to go up against. It taught me how to make quality pitches."
When Bibens-Dirkx returned to the Minor Leagues last season, it was as a starter for Class A Peoria. He finished 7-2 with a 2.04 ERA while holding opponents to a .215 batting average against.
"So far, starting has been working for me," he said. "I did enjoy coming out of the 'pen with the Mariners in tight situations and going up and battling. Starting is better for me personally because I throw at multiple angles and it works to my advantage. If I come in for an inning, I can't show much. It's better for me to go longer."
Scott Maine and David Cales combined to allow three hits over the final two innings for Tennessee.