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KC Cougars

Old, new faces help Cougars to another home win

Kane County Cougars’ catcher Kyle Schwarber hits a home run Friday against the Cedar Rapids Kernels at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva. It was Schwarber’s first home run with the Cougars.
Kane County Cougars’ catcher Kyle Schwarber hits a home run Friday against the Cedar Rapids Kernels at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva. It was Schwarber’s first home run with the Cougars.

GENEVA – Infielder David Bote and right-hander Pierce Johnson played baseball at the same high school in suburban Denver.

This may be reunion season, but the former Faith Christian Academy Eagles already had theirs as Cougars teammates for parts of 2013.

Both players converged on Fifth Third Bank Ballpark with separate agendas Friday, but being together again at least proved one thing: The more things change amid this recent flurry of Cubs organizational roster moves, the more things stay the same.

“A lot of action this past week,” manager Mark Johnson said. “Part of it. They come in bunches sometimes.”

Boy, can Bote attest. He flew back to join the club Friday from Short-A Boise nine days after leaving the Cougars. Bote landed in Chicago about 90 minutes before first pitch of an eventual 6-4 victory against Cedar Rapids.

Pierce Johnson’s sojourn lasted much longer. A supplemental first-round pick in 2012, Johnson is set to start tonight’s game against the Kernels as he works back from a left calf strain. It will mark his first outing in Geneva since his midseason promotion to Advanced-A Daytona last June after going 5-5 with a 3.10 ERA in 13 starts.

Johnson opened 2014 at Double-A Tennessee in April – hamstring troubles kept him at extended spring training – and was 1-1 with a 4.39 ERA in six games and five starts before landing on the disabled list about a month ago. He will be limited to four innings today before being re-evaluated after three or four starts.

Johnson caught a series of ceremonial first pitches before the game Friday, completing his transition. He also comes armed with sound perspective after pitching at three levels in the past year.

“There’s just more threats in the lineup, maybe a little more power, too, in [Advanced]-A. And just maybe a little bit older guys and better approach,” Johnson said. “But for the most part, the competition’s fairly close. But I think the biggest jump is from [Advanced]-A to Double-A. That’s what everybody says. But it’s going to be fun to throw. I’m excited.”

Elation swirled about a number of other pockets of the clubhouse before and after the game. That’s been common for a club that’s 30-7 at home as part of a Midwest League-best 47-25 start.

The 2013 Cougars won 55 games all season.

Cubs first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber added a jolt to an already electric group with his promotion from Boise, and went 2 for 3 with a double and a solo home run. 

He also started behind the plate for the first time in two Midwest League games. Schwarber played left field Thursday but was primarily a catcher at Indiana.

Tyler Bremer, who pitched a perfect ninth for his ninth save, conferred with Schwarber before the game and lauded his pitch calling on the fly.

“He worked fast and I loved it,” Bremer said. “Got loose quick and got to get in there and had a lot of adrenaline going and stuff. It was fun.”

Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who transferred from Daytona back to the Cougars at the All-Star break, created a save situation for Bremer by knocking a go-ahead, two-run double in the eighth to score Yasiel Balaguert and Jacob Rogers.

Rogers, the Cougars’ first baseman, enjoyed a busy night as he prepared for the arrival of his parents from Clearwater, Florida. They hadn’t watched him play since last season at Boise.

Rogers impressed early, tripling to right to lead off the second inning and scoring two batters later. A recent home custom that greets each of his hits with the iconic refrain from those Aaron Rodgers State Farm commercials – “RODGERS! DISCOUNT DOUBLE-CHECK!” – provided Rogers with another link to his past.

“Even though it’s spelled a little different, guys in college would do it all the time,” Rogers grinned.

Mark Johnson welcomed his family from Warner Robins, Georgia, earlier this week. His young son, Will, easily is the most visible member, hanging with his dad and players in the clubhouse before helping keep things light as pitchers chart the game in the press box.

On Thursday night, Will Johnson channeled a former major league catcher who wasn’t his father. Making like noted tarp-slider Rick Dempsey, the boy got plenty of slip-and-slide mileage after the Cougars’ rain-shortened win in the series opener.

“Yeah. He has fun,” Johnson said. “Every time it rains, all he wants to do is slide on the tarp a little. Gotta love the enthusiasm.”

At this point, that passion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. What’s that again about things changing and still saying the same?

Up next

Cougars (RHP Pierce Johnson, 0-0) vs. Cedar Rapids (RHP Ryan Eades, 4-7, 6.51 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280

We have liftoff

Cubs first round draft pick Kyle Schwarber launched his first home run as a Cougar leading off the fifth.

He greeted Kernels reliever Chris Mazza by smacking a 2-0, outer-half fastball over the batter’s eye in center field.

“I hit that ball pretty good,” Schwarber said. “I think that’s like the ball I hit [Thursday], except the wind was blowing in then.”

Schwarber, who started at catcher, was referring to his flyout to the warning track in center in his first at-bat Thursday. It marked one of the rare outs in his young pro career. With two more hits Friday, he’s a combined 15 for 26 (.577) with five home runs and 12 RBIs in seven games between the Cougars and Short-A Boise.

“It’s a high-level approach,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “It’s great to have that kind of guy in the middle of the lineup to kind of have other guys look at in how his taking his ABs.”

Well-played, Mauer

Kernels manager Jake Mauer could relate to the buzz surrounding Schwarber’s arrival Thursday.

He is four years the senior of brother Joe Mauer, the Minnesota Twins’ first baseman and a six-time All-Star.

The Twins drafted Mauer No. 1 overall in 2001 as a St. Paul, Minnesota multisport prep star. Mauer also had a scholarship to Florida State in hand before signing near the end of the period.

“Joe had his bags packed, ready to go to Florida State. It came down to one of the last days that they finally got everything all buttoned up,” Jake Mauer said. “He was kind of ready to go play football and play baseball down there and it all worked out. And I think it all worked out for the best.”

The Mauers played together for two seasons, at Rookie League Elizabethton and Class-A Quad Cities.

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