It's been a long year on the mound for Clayton Blackburn, but that's the way he likes it. He wants to be the guy who gets the Opening Day assignment and he takes pride in being the ace of his team.
If that means eating innings and carrying a team on his shoulders every now and then, that's fine with him.
Now, 147 days into the 153-day season, Blackburn's year has come full circle.
He started the year by posting zeros and it was more of the same in his regular-season finale on Tuesday night as he bookended his season with shutout performances.
The Giants' No. 2 prospect allowed three hits over six scoreless innings before Class A Advanced San Jose dropped a 6-1 decision to visiting Visalia.
Blackburn fanned seven, issued one walk and threw 50 of 78 pitches for strikes.
"I felt like I threw the ball pretty well tonight," he said. "I mixed in my changeup and kept the hitters off-balance. I threw the ball to both sides of the plate and I commanded the strike zone when I needed to."
The 20-year-old right-hander stranded two runners in the first inning before setting down the next nine batters. Tom Belza doubled with two outs in the fourth but advanced no further and Kevin Medrano was left at third base after drawing a leadoff walk in the sixth.
Blackburn's first scoreless outing since yielding two hits over five innings against Visalia on Opening Day lowered his ERA to 3.65.
While the Giants still have six games remaining before the California League playoffs begin, they plan on skipping Blackburn to give him extra rest and align the postseason rotation. That means he won't pitch in an actual game for 11 days. He will, however, throw a couple of bullpen sessions, long toss and throw on flat ground and may pitching live batting practice this weekend.
"Being the workhorse is what I take pride in the most. That is one of the most rewarding things for me," said Blackburn, who leads the team in starts (23), innings pitched (133) and strikeouts (138). "I like to throw as many innings as I can. That keeps the bullpen fresh and helps win a lot of games for our team."
Blackburn, ranked 96th among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, pitched 131 1/3 innings last season for Class A Augusta as part of a five-man rotation. Now in a six-man configuration in San Jose, he feels even more responsible to deliver quality starts every time out.
There have been occasional highs and the odd lull, but most of the year can be described as average. Blackburn doesn't necessarily mind that, but he knows there's also room to improve.
The 2011 16th-round Draft pick has gone at least five innings in 20 of 23 games and has struck out eight or more batters six times. The Giants are 13-10 in games he's started.
"I've had some average outings that, by my standards, were not very good, but luckily I've been throwing the ball lately," said Blackburn, who worked on how to throw his changeup for most of the season before settling on a two-seam grip.
"I've played a lot this year and I've commanded my fastball. Last year, my changeup didn't have much bite, but this year it's been a lot better. I've also developed more of a true slider to give them a different look with the off-speed pitch. I started off the season throwing the ball well and I've had hiccups here and there, but I've had a pretty good year."
Blackburn went 8-4 with a 2.54 ERA in the South Atlantic League last year and was 3-1 with a 1.08 ERA in 12 appearances, including six starts, with the Giants' Arizona League affiliate in 2011.
Blackburn exited with a 1-0 lead, but Visalia rallied to end San Jose's 10-game winning streak and lock up a playoff berth. Gerson Montilla drove in the tying run with a fielder's choice in the eighth and delivered a two-run single in a five-run ninth.