Cougar Notes: Cougars pitcher Blackburn: Playoffs will cure fatigue of long season

The long season has begun to wear on Cougars starter Paul Blackburn, who says that a new burst of energy is awaiting when the playoffs begin.    | Jon Langham/For Sun-Times Media
The long season has begun to wear on Cougars starter Paul Blackburn, who says that a new burst of energy is awaiting when the playoffs begin. | Jon Langham/For Sun-Times Media

Coming into his first full professional season after being drafted out of high school in the supplemental round by the Cubs in 2012, people warned Cougars pitcher Paul Blackburn that the long season was a grind.

“They told us the first day here that it’s a long year and your body is going to feel it,” Blackburn said. “It gets you. It definitely gets you.”

Blackburn started to feel it late in July, so he was given an 11-day break between starts. He was even removed from the roster for a few days so he could recharge. In the three starts since his return, he’s allowed six runs in 14 innings. He stands at 9-4 with a 3.27 ERA overall this season.

But he could feel the grind wearing him down as July wore on.

“My legs were starting to get tired,” Blackburn said. “I just took a little time off from working out hard and running hard, gave my body a breather. My first year has been long.”

He knows that he’s about to get a jolt of energy in a couple of weeks, however, when the playoffs arrive.

“I think when the playoffs come it will be a whole different mindset,” Blackburn said. “There will be a lot more adrenaline. That’s how it was for me (last year at short-season Class A Boise). My body did get tired, but once the playoffs come, your whole body feels refreshed.”

Zagunis on board

The third member of the Cubs’ 2014 draft class arrived in Kane County recently as third-round pick Mark Zagunis arrived from Boise.

The Virginia Tech product acquitted himself quite well at Boise, hitting .299 in 41 games while splitting time between catcher, outfield and designated hitter.

Cougars manager Mark Johnson said that would be the same plan with the Cougars, with Zagunis slated to catch about once a week with the likes of Cael Brockmeyer and Victor Caratini also getting reps behind the dish.

“Probably catching, but right now, it doesn’t matter, wherever I get a chance to play,” Zagunis said of the position where he feels most comfortable. “All the catchers here are really good. To be a part of that is very special, especially with MJ (a former Major League catcher) having the experience catching. It’s been a blast since I’ve been here.”

Johnson receives honor

Cougars manager Mark Johnson would rather talk about anybody other than himself, but he received some accolades from Baseball America recently.

In their midseason Best Tools issue, Johnson was named the top big league managerial prospect in low Class A. He has guided the Cougars to one of the best seasons in franchise history thus far, sitting five wins shy of the team record of 88 with two weeks to go in the regular season and capturing the first-half Western Division championship.

“Obviously it’s an honor, but I don’t put too much stock into it,” Johnson said. “They’re the ones that are sticking together and winning (pointing out of his office to the clubhouse). I’m just happy being in baseball. I love the game. I enjoy being around a group of guys. Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it.”

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