TCU's Maxwell shines after recovery

TCU's Steven Maxwell heads a dominant starting rotation for the Horned Frogs. TCU

FORT WORTH, Texas -- On paper, it might be hard to see how TCU ace Steven Maxwell made the quantum leap from a 3-2 record with a 6.10 ERA in 2009 to his 11-1 mark and 2.51 ERA this year.

It's hard to tell the difference in person as well. The only telltale sign is a small scar on his left wrist.

Maxwell had a small ligament removed from his wrist and placed into his right elbow during an ulner collateral ligament reconstruction. Tommy John surgery, if you will.

"Coming back from Tommy John surgery really taught me a whole lot of things in life and in baseball," Maxwell said. "It's one of those thing where I had to dedicate my life to getting back to where I wanted to be on the baseball field."

The medical redshirt junior lasted three starts into his sophomore season before opting for the surgery in March 2008. The recovery was tough -- it was 10 months before he could pitch again, and his recovery was really just beginning.

"When you come back after that, you're not the same guy necessarily," Maxwell said. "Physically, you might feel like you can do a lot of the things, but mentally, you're not nearly as confident."

Maxwell said he was almost there last season, but it took him half the season to get back to focusing on improving his game.

"I felt like all my stuff was there physically, but it was the situations where I'd get out on the mound, where I wouldn't trust myself throwing against a certain team and didn't have faith in myself necessarily," Maxwell said.

He spent the summer in the Cape Cod league, steadily improving without the pressure of letting his TCU teammates down disrupting him. He worked on everything he needed to work on when the results didn't matter as much for his team.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said his pitcher returned ready to take the reins of the staff in the fall.

"He was dominant," Schlossnagle said. "He was every bit as dominant as [Matt] Purke was, so we knew going in we had a chance to be very special with those three guys."

Maxwell, Purke and rotation mate Kyle Winkler have been spectacular by any standards, combining to lead TCU to an undefeated record in weekend series this season, including last weekend's Fort Worth Regional.

TCU catcher and Johnny Bench Award finalist Bryan Holaday said all three pitchers push each other, trying to top one another as each hurls his third of the weekend.

"Matt has done a great job of going out there on Friday nights and getting us off to a great start, have a lot of energy on the mound and just compete," Holaday said. "Then Kyle will come out Saturday and try to outdo Matt and Steven will come out Sunday and try to outdo Kyle. It's a really fun thing to be a part of in trying to catch this staff."

Sunday's 9-0 deconstruction of Baylor, led by Maxwell, definitely won this weekend's honors despite stiff competition.

Maxwell lasted eight innings of the Frog's win over Baylor, which clinched the regional. He allowed only three hits in the shutout and had 10 strikeouts compared to just two walks.

Again, stats on paper never totally account for Maxwell, a 12th round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in this week's MLB draft.

He opened the bottom of the fourth allowing a triple to Baylor center fielder Brooks Pinckard before walking another batter to put runners at the corners with no outs.

"I've been in those situations before, and when it happened I really just focused on my breathing, and let myself focus on executing pitches," Maxwell said.

Maxwell certainly looked the part of executioner. He struck out Baylor right fielder Cal Towey on four pitches. Regional MVP shortstop Taylor Featherston then turned a double play to end the inning.

"I executed a lot of the pitches that I wanted to in situations that I needed to, so I look at it that way," Maxwell said. "I feel like I did that most of the time [Sunday], so yeah, I think it was one of my better outings."

If TCU is to win its Super Regional matchup with the Longhorns in Austin, another postseason start like that would go a long way toward its goal.

Sunday night was just Maxwell's first postseason start. In four years with the Frogs, Maxwell had pitched just one relief inning, against Texas in last year's Super Regional.

He's not worried about experience being an issue.

"I've learned a lot in the last four years, and it's given me a better idea of what to expect in these regional environments," Maxwell said. "I've seen it before, whether I've pitched in it or not. Just seeing it and being around it and seeing how guys react to it has really given me confidence."

The Horned Frogs and Longhorns have not met this season, so Texas may not be expecting this year's model of Maxwell, one which has allowed only 79 hits in 97 innings pitched.

But that's just on paper.

Josh Davis is an ESPNDallas.com intern and a writer for TCU's student newspaper, the Daily Skiff.