Strike force: Cubs’ Carl Edwards Jr. vows to take command in 2018

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Edwards pitching at Dodger Stadium during the playoffs last fall.

MESA, Ariz. — It’s no accident reliever Carl Edwards Jr. chose video of Mariano Rivera and Kenley Jansen to binge-watch over the winter in preparation for this season.

“I was just looking at those guys and just trying to figure out how I can make myself better and how I can get up to their level,” Edwards said of the heralded closers.

“They were just like bulldogs, like, ‘Here you go, hit it. If you hit it out, you hit it out. If you don’t, you don’t.’ ’’

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Edwards, 26, has the velocity, the stuff and a strong enough makeup to become the pitcher that finally makes the front office think twice about going outside the organization each year for a closer.

“He’s that guy in the making,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He can absolutely do that kind of stuff.”

And with veteran Brandon Morrow asked to be the closer for a World Series contender with little experience in the role, Edwards might even become a Plan B this year if Morrow struggles.

Except for one thing. He can’t walk more than 5½ guys per nine innings like he did last year (including an even worse rate in the playoffs).

Opponents have trouble hitting the ball anywhere against Edwards, who strikes out 12.6 per nine innings. They’ve hit just .132 (.491 OPS) against him in his 114 career appearances, including .134 (.503) last year.

“His stuff is fabulous. Look at the numbers — bizarrely good,” Maddon said. “The big thing with him was just command of his pitches at the end of the year last year.”

That’s where the strike-obsessed Rivera and Jansen come into the picture — and into Edwards’ mindset.

And where Edwards’ dad, his original pitching coach, comes into play.

“He said, ‘Son, you’re there for a reason. There was no mistake,’ ’’ Edwards said. “ ‘You have to just go out there and [pound] the strike zone. I don’t care if it’s 0-2; don’t waste a pitch. Just get him out. That’s your thing.’ ’’

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“More of a mindset, just telling myself to just go right at guys,” Edwards said. “Don’t shy away from contact. Let them make contact. You’ve got seven guys behind you who can make a play.”

It’s easier said than done for a young pitcher.

“It’s because you see veteran guys [in the batter’s box] that you grew up watching,” Edwards said. “You watched them hit numerous home runs, and a lot of young guys are afraid to give up that one pitch, the home-run thing. I think a lot of young guys are like that.”

That’s what makes this the biggest number of his spring: Zero.

That’s how many walks Edwards has given up in seven outings this spring, including a four-up, four-down appearance in the eighth and ninth innings against the Rangers on Wednesday.

“It’s a really big deal,” he said.

The only runs he gave up came at bandbox Cashman Stadium in Las Vegas on a Mike Napoli two-run homer Saturday.

“I was actually happy about that,” said Edwards, who opened the inning with a strikeout, then gave up a ground-ball single to Jason Kipnis and got ahead of Napoli 1-2 before the home-run pitch.

“I needed that,” Edwards said. “Not really the home run. . . . But that was the first time I actually had contact, balls in play. I actually had to get down and really focus on stuff.”

He gave up another single on a grounder before getting a strikeout and groundout to end it without throwing another ball in the inning.

“I locked it back in,” he said. “It’s just about being aggressive in the strike zone.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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