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Cubs’ Carl Edwards Jr.’s goal: ‘Make the All-Star team this year’

Edwards allowed just one earned run in eight Cactus League outings this spring (eight strikeouts, 7 1/3 innings).

HOUSTON — Carl Edwards Jr. has done nothing at the ballpark for the last two weeks except pitch well and talk about his beloved South Carolina Gamecocks.

Edwards, who grew up less than an hour from the campus, has closely followed — and boasted about — both the men’s and women’s basketball teams making the NCAA Final Four, especially the long-shot men, who barely got in the field.

Whether that Cinderella run continues in the national semifinals Saturday, a bigger question for the Cubs is whether Edwards can become the South Carolina of their stout-looking bullpen this year.

“He can get anybody out. He’s got that kind of stuff,” said manager Joe Maddon, who “absolutely” is willing to use him in any situation — and whose biggest challenge might be resisting the temptation to use him too much in a series of tight games. “You saw what he’s capable of, and you saw the confidence we had in him at the end of the year pitching in the seventh game of the World Series.”

Confidence?

“My goal is to make the All-Star team this year,” said Edwards, who got the first two outs of the 10th inning of Game 7 last fall. “It’s what I’ve been telling myself.”

Doing that figures to require becoming the Cubs’ primary late-inning setup man. But the way Edwards has looked since he was called up as a rookie last season, it’s not out of the question. Maddon has said more than once he has the stuff to be a closer someday.

Edwards said he takes nothing for granted — even the roster spot that was assured entering camp.

“I feel like as long as I keep my intensity level up and go out and do my job, it’s going to help me out a lot,” he said. “You never know — I might be the reliever of the year. You never know.”

Only good things to say

Shortstop Addison Russell (back) returned to the lineup for the first time in more than a week and looked especially healthy. He made two sharp plays in the first inning of an 8-6 loss to the Houston Astros, including a play deep in the hole for a long out, then singled home a run in the second and homered in the third.

“Body feels good, mind feels good, back feels good,” Russell said.

Maddon said he hopes to have him play again Friday.

He’ll catch on

Left fielder/emergency catcher Kyle Schwarber got his first work behind the plate in a big-league game, taking over in the sixth.

La Stella exhales

Infielder Tommy La Stella said he wasn’t necessarily sweating out whether he’d survive the Cubs’ final roster decision this week.

“Those are things I can’t control,” he said, but added, “It was definitely a relief” to make the cut, along with outfielder Matt Szczur.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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