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Inside the Cougars' Den: Outfielders a key cog in Kane County’s start

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:27 p.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, June 14, 2014 6:29 a.m. CST
Caption
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
The Cougars' athletic outfield, including Jake Hannemann (center) and Yasiel Balaguert (right), has helped back the strong efforts of the pitching staff this season.

GENEVA – Outfielders’ expert patrolling of what manager Mark Johnson calls the “big ol’ yard” of Fifth Third Bank Ballpark has fueled two of the club’s more impressive statistics.

You don’t get to be 28-7 at home with a Midwest League-leading 2.93 ERA through Thursday without an athletic back line, to borrow a soccer term.

A group that knows the wind – both its own and the one swirling around it – goes a long way, too.

“Blowing in, switching directions. In a game, you always have to be conscious of that, and definitely learn from that,” center fielder Jake Hannemann said.

At the Improper Fraction, that can be an especially tricky task, players find, putting a premium on getting fly ball reads during batting practice.

“Play deep, for the most part,” corner outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr. said. “We don’t know. One day, the wind blows out and it’s good for hitters. The next day the wind will be blowing straight in and good for pitchers. I mean, you get used to it. You have to play in every condition.”

Manager Mark Johnson, who has presided over 104 home games since joining the Cougars last season, argues for a larger ratio of pitcher-friendly days.

But whether the wind is blowing across, in or out, only affects so much. Thus far, the Cougars are satisfying the other side of the equation behind a staff that includes All-Star right-handers Paul Blackburn and Jose Arias.

“You’ve still got to make pitches and you’ve still got to make plays, you know,” Johnson said. “And it shows when our pitchers do make certain pitches and they locate well and they put guys away and our defense catches the ball, that’s where it’s at. It’s not so much the size of the ballpark, really. We keep the ball down in the zone and try to keep the ball there anyways.”

Dunston to Dunston: Get ready for the living Shawon-O-Meter.

The San Francisco Giants’ visit to the White Sox from Monday through Wednesday coincides with the Midwest League All-Star break, giving Dunston Jr. the chance to see his namesake, a former Cubs All-Star infielder.

Shawon Dunston serves as the Giants’ instant replay liaison, watching games from the clubhouse.

“Most likely, probably just one day I’ll go see him,” said Dunston Jr., who does not plan to return to his native California for the break.

Dunston might just turn up in Fifth Third Bank Ballpark – a venue nine years in the making when he played in the Midwest League for Quad Cities in 1982 – later this season. The Giants play at Wrigley Field from Aug. 19 to 21, in the middle of a Cougars’ homestand against Burlington and Clinton.

• 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.

Who’s hot

A .382 hitter (13 for 34) thus far in June, second baseman Danny Lockhart continues a warming trend. He hit .236 in April and .275 in May.

Who’s not

Through Thursday, first baseman Jacob Rogers was batting .192 (5 for 26) in June after a .287 mark in May.

Star watch

Beloit outfielder Herschel “Boog” Powell led the Midwest League with a .338 batting average and .453 on-base percentage entering Friday’s series opener against the visiting Cougars.

One of four Snappers selected to Tuesday’s All-Star game at West Michigan, the left-handed hitting Powell was a 20th-round draft pick of the parent Oakland A’s in 2012.

Noteworthy

The Cougars were 36-2 when scoring four or more runs entering Friday. ... The Cougars play nine of their first 13 games after the All-Star break at home. World Cup Soccer Night (Thursday), Princess Night (Friday) and Jimmy Buffett Night (Saturday) highlight the first homestand of the second half. ... Former Cougars outfielder Jeremy Barfield, who converted to a left-handed reliever in the Oakland A’s system in 2013, was 3-1 with a 5.10 ERA in 19 relief appearances for Advanced-A Stockton through Thursday.

– Kevin Druley, kdruley@shawmedia.com

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