Paul Blackburn is 20 years old, but you couldn't tell by the way he pitches.
"He gets it," Class A Kane County manager Mark Johnson said. "He can think ahead two or three batters. Usually takes years and years, and he's got it."
The Cubs' No. 14 prospect allowed one hit and one walk while striking out six over six innings Tuesday night as the Cougars blanked Bowling Green, 1-0, to complete a doubleheader sweep.
"Paul's got a knack for establishing the fastball and asserting pitches. He just has a really good feel at how to attack a lineup and control the running game," Johnson said. "You don't see a lot of young pitchers establish fastballs inside like they used to -- he is a throwback guy."
Blackburn (1-0) did not allow a hit until Darryl George singled with one out in the fourth to put runners at first and second. He recovered quickly, retiring Granden Goetzman on an infield popup and striking out James Harris.
The right-hander worked around a leadoff walk in the fifth, then hit a batter in the sixth and followed a passed ball with a wild pitch that put the potential tying run at third base. But Blackburn struck out George to protect a 1-0 lead.
"He doesn't ever get rattled… he is the kind of guy that is even-keeled," Johnson said. "He has the composure of a 35-year-old veteran. He knows what he needs to do and executes pitches."
After nearing his pitch limit of 85, Blackburn was relieved by Jose Arias, who issued a walk and recorded four strikeouts in the seventh -- Pat Blair reached on a wild pitch -- for his first professional save.
Since his first start of the season -- when he surrendered four runs in four frames -- Blackburn (1-0) has brought his ERA down to 3.60. The California native allowed two runs on two hits over five innings in his second start on April 9.
Selected 56th overall by the Cubs in the 2012 Draft, Blackburn has added 50 pounds as he builds up his strength. He spent his first two years in the short-season Arizona and Northwest leagues, recording 51 strikeouts over 56 2/3 innings in 22 appearances (18 starts).
In what Johnson described as a "pretty boring game," the Cougars scored the only run in the third as Carlos Penalver doubled home Cubs No. 17 prospect Jacob Hannemann.
Hot Rods starter Blake Snell (0-2), the Rays' No. 10 prospect took the hard-luck loss after giving up one run on three hits over 4 1/3 innings. He walked three batters and struck out five.
Kane County took the opener, 2-0, as Jen-Ho Tseng and Zack Godley combined on a seven-hitter.