Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Slugger takes the wait off

Blackwood breaks out of sluggish return on a hitting tear

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If there's one player the Winnipeg Goldeyes are happy to see back it's Jake Blackwood.

It's been nearly two months since Blackwood went down with an ankle injury that sat him out for 15 games. And while he returned to the lineup on July 10, he's the first to admit he wasn't the same player who helped the double-A San Antonio Missions to a Texas League Championship in 2013.

Blackwood struggled at the plate early in his return and after the arrival of Brock Bond at second base, he was handed the job at third. But as the month went on he started to show signs of his old self, closing out July with a .272 batting average.

Now 12 games into August -- the final stretch of the season -- it's safe to say Blackwood is back. The 28-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., is batting .425 to begin the month, picking up four of his seven home runs on the season. For Blackwood it's all about feeling comfortable out on the field again.

"When I came off that ankle injury, my ankle was still pretty weak there for awhile," Blackwood said. "It finally feels good, full strength now. I'm able to drive off my back side a little more now, you know really use my legs in my swing...

"It's always hard coming back off an injury, especially when it's something like an ankle. In baseball obviously you're on your feet the whole time, you're using your legs. It's one of those things where I was struggling but I knew why I was struggling."

As for the transition to third base, Blackwood said there wasn't much of one, other than the ball taking different hops. The first-year Fish has played about six years of his baseball career at the third bag and feels right at home.

So no hard feelings with the current second bagger Bond?

"Oh no, not at all, Brock is a great player," he said.

"He's come right in, he's stepped in and done some great things for us. He gets on base, sees a lot of pitches, makes the pitcher work and plays a good second base, so I have no problem moving over to third."

Blackwood is riding an eight-game hitting streak, which included a matchup against the league-leading Wichita Wingnuts last week and a current series with the St. Paul Saints, the second- place team in the North Division. He batted .533 throughout the four-game series with the Winguts, racking up two home runs and three RBI.

In Tuesday's game against the Saints, he went 3-for-4 with another home run. He said the pressure to perform at this time of year is something he puts on himself.

"I think any baseball player who says they don't put a little pressure on themselves to do well in a big series would be lying to you," Blackwood said.

"Of course, you know I want to do everything I can at every at-bat, every inning. But you know it's a team game, one guy can't win the game for you obviously... But it's always a little added pressure anytime it's a big game, that's for sure."

kyle.edwards@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2014 D3

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