Closing time? Focus on command key to 2020 vision for Cubs’ Carl Edwards Jr.
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MESA, Ariz. — Sure, Carl Edwards Jr. might find his way into the Cubs’ ninth-inning mix in April with closer Brandon Morrow sidelined, especially with Pedro Strop nursing a sore hamstring.
But the skinny reliever with the powerful right arm has a bigger end game in mind as he prepares for his third full season in the majors.
Say hello to the Cubs’ closer in 2020?
‘‘As we speak today, in a perfect world, yeah,’’ Edwards, 27, said. ‘‘That’s my goal.’’
The Cubs have talked about Edwards’ hard fastball and sharp breaking ball as ninth-inning stuff almost since he got to the big leagues for good in the middle of the 2016 season.
‘‘I’ve said for years that he’s capable of being that,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘It’s just going to come down to him commanding his pitches.’’
If the hesitation move Edwards has adopted as part of his delivery continues to work as it has so far this spring, a perfect storm might be brewing that makes his 2020 vision realistic.
After fighting command slumps since getting to the majors, Edwards borrowed the pause just before delivering the ball from watching video during the offseason of Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who had borrowed it from teammate Clayton Kershaw.
It has the effects of making the 6-3 Edwards’ final move to the plate more compact and the baseball, in theory, easier to command, with no loss of velocity.
‘‘I’m not going to say it’s 100 percent, but it’s slowly getting there,’’ said Edwards, who hasn’t walked a batter this spring and plans to carry the new move into the season. ‘‘I’m really, really comfortable with it. It’s something that I hope will take my game past the next level.’’
If he can cut his career walk rate of 4.9 per nine innings in half, that might be the difference in earning enough trust to earn a shot at the ninth inning.
That might make this an especially important season for Edwards — for what he can do for a Cubs team with October on its mind and what he can do for his career.
The Cubs have five pitchers on their roster with at least a half-season of closing experience. None is under contract for next season.
Morrow, who was lights-out when he pitched last season, missed more than half of 2018 with two injuries and rarely has had a full season of good health. Picking up his $12 million option for 2020 might be an expensive pill to swallow, even if he comes back in May and pitches well the rest of the season.
Which is to say the Cubs don’t have a 2020 closer as they open 2019.
But Edwards, who started the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series as a rookie, is still under club control for at least two more years. And determined.
‘‘If he [shows command], he absolutely has the kind of stuff to be that guy,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘So watch it as the season’s in progress.’’
For now, Edwards will open the season as one of at least four key late-inning options for Maddon. That might mean occasional ninth-inning work with Morrow out, but it more often will mean hot-spot setup work in the seventh or eighth.
‘‘Just throw strikes,’’ Edwards said of his focus for 2019.
And if that happens, watch out in 2020.
‘‘I get that role, and my thing is to be able to succeed — not just being named [closer],’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not going to say I expect a perfect season closing. But if I fail, say, two times out of the whole year, then I’m successful.’’
Of the 15 pitchers in the majors with at least 30 save chances last season, only one blew as few as two (the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman was 30-for-32).
‘‘That’s just how I’m looking at it,’’ Edwards said.