ST. LOUIS – All that matters now is the Cubs think Carl Edwards Jr. can help them win games in a pennant race.
The pitcher formerly known as C.J. had been a good underdog story, from his humble roots (Prosperity, South Carolina) to his afterthought draft status (48th round in 2011) to his skinny frame (6-foot-3, 170 pounds).
But the Cubs wouldn’t have summoned Edwards to Busch Stadium on Labor Day if they didn’t think his plus stuff would translate from Triple-A Iowa and give their bullpen a different dimension.
“I kind of threw that (away) a long time ago,” Edwards said after making his big-league debut in a 9-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. “Just because I was a kid (who) wanted an opportunity.
“I got my opportunity. I got my foot in the door. And it’s all up to me now to dictate what my future holds for this game.”
Edwards kicked the door down by striking out 369 batters in 292.1 career innings in the minors, emerging as a wild card for a playoff contender.
In front of a sellout crowd (45,986) – and his parents who had flown from South Carolina on an airplane for the first time – Edwards walked the first batter he faced (Tony Cruz) on five pitches. Manager Joe Maddon accurately described Edwards as “a little nervioso.”
Edwards settled down and got a double-play ball and a grounder to second base to finish a scoreless eighth inning: “What a great way to come into the league and face one of the best teams in baseball – the best team in baseball right now.”
“It definitely plays,” Maddon said. “It’s all there. We’ll give him a chance to get out there, probably (in) a less-than-high-leverage moment. (But) he’s that kind of a talent that can be impactful now, going into October.”
Edwards turned 24 last week and recently celebrated the birth of his baby girl. The right-hander had worked almost exclusively as a starter until this season, beginning the year as Baseball America’s No. 38 overall prospect, working out of Double-A Tennessee’s bullpen and pitching in the All-Star Futures Game.
“I’m going to take it all in and you never know what could happen,” Edwards said. “I’m excited to be here – especially with a great group of guys (willing to) take a young guy like me (in).
“As soon as I got here, they told me: ‘Look, bro, this is how it works. We’re not going to lead you wrong. We’re just going to put you out here (in a position to succeed). Just have fun. Keep doing what you’ve been doing.’
“It took some wind out of me, so I could actually breathe, look around and have confidence going out there.”
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Edwards raised his profile after that Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers in 2013, emerging as one of the bright spots for an organization that has struggled to internally develop pitchers in the minors.
Edwards has command issues that might be exposed at this level after putting up 39 strikeouts against 24 walks in 31.2 innings at Iowa. But in a season where the Cubs have fast-tracked so much young talent, Edwards will get his chance in The Show.
“I’ve been asking about him all year, because he’s the kind of kid I think can be a really good major-league pitcher,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing is just how quickly he adapts emotionally to the whole thing.”
Nothing has been handed to Edwards, who has already demonstrated the kind of inner confidence, mental toughness and natural ability you need to survive in pressure situations.
As Edwards said: “It doesn’t matter how I got here – as long as I got here.”