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Cougars' notebook: Johnson happily hops on fast track

Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013 5:33 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, June 22, 2013 6:53 a.m. CDT
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Right-hander Pierce Johnson, a first-round sandwich pick of the Cubs last June, was promoted from the Cougars to Advanced-A Daytona on Wednesday.

The Cubs expect Pierce Johnson to continue climbing their organizational ladder, as he did with this week’s promotion from the Cougars to Advanced-A Daytona.

A first-round sandwich pick last June, Johnson envisions the same path for himself, though that doesn’t prevent him from the occasional brush with goosebumps.

So it went Wednesday, when Cougars manager Mark Johnson and pitching coach Ron Villone summoned the right-hander to tell him of the move after an off-day workout.

“I felt pretty poised,” Pierce Johnson said in a phone interview Friday. “I definitely felt like I had worked pretty hard, but it’s definitely a butterfly effect, as well.”

Johnson arrived in Daytona on Thursday, threw a bullpen session Friday and is scheduled to make his Florida State League debut against Lakeland on Monday.

In a team-high 13 starts with the Cougars during the first half of the Midwest League season, the former Missouri State standout went 5-5 with a 3.10 ERA. Johnson compiled 74 strikeouts in 692/3 innings, relying on a low 90s fastball he has spotted with precision.

“The reason I was drafted is because I throw that pretty well,” Johnson said. “That’s my best pitch, and locating it is the key at every level.”

Also armed with a low-80s slider, Johnson has thrown his changeup at the same speed.

In Daytona, he’ll reunite with a handful of teammates who broke spring training with the Cougars, including catcher Chadd Krist and outfielder Pin-Chieh Chen.

That’s a nice reminder of Geneva and Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, but Johnson wasn’t liable to forget about Kane County anyway.

“It was a blast playing there and I want to thank my teammates and the fans there,” Johnson said. “I hope the best for everyone on that team in the second half, and hopefully some of those guys will join me.”

Another go-round: Mike Giovenco, a right-handed reliever for the Cougars during the club’s affiliation with the Kansas City Royals from 2011-12, signed with the independent Schaumburg Boomers in the offseason.

An Elmhurst native who pitched at Fenwick and North Park University, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Giovenco has shined in spots as a starter for the Boomers. The team would like him to cut down on walks, though, as he had 24 in 36 2/3 innings through Thursday.

“He’s not really wandering, but just kind of not committing to certain pitches and stuff like that,” Boomers pitching coach T.J. Nall said. “Trying to kind of trick guys instead of going after them.”

Camping out: Righty Shawn Camp rejoined the Cubs bullpen this week after throwing three innings of two-hit, four-strikeout relief over two rehab appearances with the Cougars on June 11 and 14.

“That’s the good thing about being right down the road,” Mark Johnson said. “You can come in here and get your work in and go back and go back home.”

Camp, who’d been out with a strained right big toe, was the first big leaguer to rehab in Geneva under the two-year Cubs-Cougars player-development contract signed in September 2012.

Outfielder David DeJesus, who sprained his right shoulder this past weekend, might be the next candidate in July. It would be a familiar trip for DeJesus, who works out with Batavia-based ProForce Sports Performance Training in the offseason.

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