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Druley: Cougars' bullpen cleans up messes

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – On most nights, the Midwest League operates with the unofficial tagline of "Wait and see."

It has nothing to do with the prospects playing in each game, but rather the outcome.

Seemingly insurmountable early leads can vanish in a flash, and the same goes for advantages in the late innings.

After a recent string of rocky starts, the Cougars rely on "Wait and see" as their bullpen routinely keeps them afloat as a sub-.500 season nears its end.

"Obviously, you go through stretches of throwing up zeros and putting up some good innings, your confidence grows," left-hander Sheldon McDonald said, "but it's important even if you have a little hiccup to keep running out there and knowing you can do it and compete against hitters."

It's not the proudest statistic to hang one's hat on, but of the 16 runs the Cougars allowed Monday and Tuesday in limping to a series loss against Clinton, just one came after the fifth inning.

Entering Wednesday, Stephen Perakslis (0.77 ERA in his past 10 games) was arguably the hottest pitcher among the relief corps to date, followed by Michael Hamann (1.32) and McDonald (2.29).

Nathan Dorris, an All-Star lefty, has held opponents scoreless in his past four outings covering seven innings.

Of that quartet, none is lower than a 16th-round selection of the parent Cubs. A late-season promotion to Advanced-A Daytona – where McDonald sputtered earlier this summer before relocating his form in Kane County – is unlikely. But that doesn't mean Cubs brass aren't noticing the effort.

"The season's coming to a close but I think we're actually playing some pretty good baseball as of late, which is nice to see," McDonald said. "It's always good to finish the season strong and going into the offseason knowing what you need to work on for next year and come back stronger."

The rotation has not been without its bright spots. Recent draftees Tyler Skulina, a fourth-round righty, and Rob Zastryzny, a second-round lefty, formed a high-profile piggyback tandem earlier this month.

Zastryzny, the second leg of that arrangement, technically has been pitching in relief since making his Midwest League debut Aug. 9. He has allowed one run in 9 2/3 innings, a 0.93 ERA.

Fellow southpaw Michael Heesch – a Prairie Ridge product whose family lives in Bartlett – also was showing well before landing on the disabled list this week. Heesch had a 3.63 ERA in four August starts covering 22 1/3 innings. An eighth-round pick in 2012, Heesch has been on an innings limit all season.

"He's another guy that has just continued to get better and better this year," manager Mark Johnson said. "He's a good story. He learns a lot and he applies it and it's showed in the past three to four weeks."

Sounds like some other pitchers Heesch knows.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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