Friday, May 13, 2011

SPORTS>>Baxendale named to Team USA roster

Special to The Leader

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn didn’t pick DJ Baxendale, but other coaches and Team USA selectors did.

So Baxendale, the Hogs’ ace, will continue pitching for Van Horn after the college baseball season concludes.

Van Horn is a Team USA assistant coach, and Baxendale, the sophomore right-hander from Sylvan Hills, was named Tuesday to Team USA, a team of 22 all-star college players who will play international teams on a three-week U.S. tour this summer.

Van Horn would have selected Baxendale (7-1, 1.58 ERA and two saves) if he could, but he wasn’t allowed to vote for his own players.

“DJ’s name was already on the list,” Van Horn said. “But I am off the call. Whenever they put his name in to select and vote, I am done. I got a call later saying they selected him.

“Like coach Rob Walton of Oral Roberts is our pitching coach. He has a guy or two whose name is on and then he gets off the call. We may have a player or two more on the list.”

Though he couldn’t make the call on Baxendale, Van Horn said he was “not surprised at all” that others did.

Even when he went 0-2 last year, Baxendale captured attention with seven saves and a superb 6 1/3-inning relief performance during the Razorbacks’ 7-5 12-inning, NCAA Super Regional loss to top-ranked Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.

“Last year he pitched in his role which was out of the pen for the most part,” Van Horn said. “You think of his last outing last year against Arizona State; big stage on national TV. If we lose we’re done.

“He gave us six, seven, eight innings in the middle of the game and took us into extra innings and pitched great against one of the best teams, at the time the No. 1-ranked team at their place. He showed what his future is all about. His numbers back it up. Him making the national team is well deserved.”

Deserving and humbling.

“It’s a real honor to be selected for the team and to able to represent the University of Arkansas on Team USA,” said Baxendale, coming off a complete-game victory over nationally ranked Florida.

“I’m looking forward to playing some tough competition this summer and representing my country on the baseball field.”

Where will Baxendale fit in Team USA’s pitching plans?

“His role on the national team is going to be out of the bullpen,” Van Horn said. “Whether it is in the middle or closing games, and we have also left it open for him to be a spot starter if he hasn’t thrown for a couple of days.

“It’s a short summer with the national team, only three weeks instead of five or six. We are staying on the East Coast until we play Japan the last two games in Omaha.”

With only Baxendale and junior lefty Geoffrey Davenport back as experienced pitchers, Van Horn originally decided that instead of starting Baxendale as the traditional first-night SEC series ace, he would pitch him out of the bullpen twice a series.

However with Davenport lost for the season with an injury, and freshmen Barrett Astin and Nolan Sanburn and sophomores Trent Daniel and Cade Lynch — now the third-game SEC starter — emerging in the bullpen, Van Horn and Hogs pitching coach Dave Jorn started using their ace like an ace to start the SEC weekends.

“When Davenport went down that threw us into a little tailspin in how we were going to handle it,” Van Horn said.

“To have those freshmen step up and do a great job in the bullpen and whether Cade Lynch was in the bullpen or as a starter, we mixed and matched.”

Though struggling lately, Sanburn got a lot of well-deserved attention with his team-leading eight saves. And Forrest City’s Astin has been on a roll, striking out 10 in a 3 1/3-inning stint against Mississippi State and throwing a perfect three innings to save Randall Fant’s victory over Florida last weekend.

Don’t overlook Daniel, Van Horn emphasized. The lefty from Bryant who transferred from Arkansas-Forth Smith is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and a save while pitching in middle, long and short relief.

“One of the big keys is Daniel,” Van Horn said.

“He’s having a tremendous season whether he is a guy that comes in the fifth and finishes it up and gets you to the ninth, it has been big. It has allowed us to say, ‘Hey let’s go out there and turn it over to these guys for six or seven innings and they can hold it.’ ”