Cougars reliever Justin Amlung earned accolades as Big East Pitcher of the Year last spring, a few weeks before the parent Cubs drafted him in the 12th round. A right-hander, Amlung was a starter then, and while he may return to that role before long, is now pitching out of the bullpen. That’s a common transition for pitchers in their first full seasons, and Kane County Chronicle sports reporter Kevin Druley asked Amlung about his progress for this week’s edition of the Weekend Chit-chat. The following is an edited transcript:
You’ve thrown well in relief lately. How’s your arm feel as the season hits the 60-game mark?
By this time, we should be in midseason form. All the kinks from spring training are over and done with. This is my first full professional season, and from what I’ve heard, this is about the time that the soreness would start to settle in a little bit and starts to get into the grind of summer. It’ll be good to get those three days for the All-Star break, to get away from the game, get some rest and come back for the second half.
Obviously you can’t pace yourself since this is about results, but what can you do, if anything, for your arm when you enter this situation?
There’s no such thing as pacing yourself. I mean, every inning, it’s 100 percent, as much as you can do. But really, the big thing that I’ve learned so far from being a professional is just getting your sleep, staying hydrated, take care of your body.
How much do they trumpet that in college?
Oh, big time. Big time. You know, with nutritionists and all that deal. Hydration and sleep is the way to go. … I learned good habits in college, and it just kind of carries over.
Everybody talks about the Big East as a basketball conference, but how did it stack up baseball-wise?
Baseball-wise, we had typically about three good teams every year. Us and UConn were typically good, and kind of everyone else took turns on what year they were going to be. But it was pretty competitive. Not every conference game was a rivalry game for us, but everyone looking up at Louisville was just like, ‘Wow.’ We put the bull’s-eye on the back. We always got the conference’s best, so yeah, it was competitive always.
It was only the first week of the season, but how much were you chirping about the [men’s] basketball national title?
Oh, heck yeah, of course. I never bring up Louisville in the locker room, but if someone wants to talk about it, I’m more than happy to get in that fight.
What’s it like switching roles, going from a college starter to a long relief guy here?
I mean, in college, I probably averaged seven innings an outing. So it was actually different being toned down to only two, three innings. … I feel like I could [stretch out]. I don’t think I would lose anything off my fastball between inning one and inning five or six, but I think the next day I would feel it. Being a lot more sore than usual.
What had been your high-water mark for games before?
Probably last year, I played a full college year, I’d say we got about 65 games. And then I was in [Short-A] Boise for about 40 or so, so probably about 100 is my most.