Carl Edwards Jr. showing Cubs he can handle being thrown in the fire

Carl Edwards Jr. showing Cubs he can handle being thrown in the fire

MILWAUKEE — Carl Edwards Jr. is pitching in the majors in April for the first time ever but he's making the case that he's Joe Maddon's most valuable reliever.

The Cubs have a very talented bullpen that features three guys who have had a lot of experience closing games, yet Edwards and his 43 career games have earned Maddon's trust.

In the Cubs' season-opening series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, Edwards got some big outs, including preserving the 6-4 victory Thursday with a pair of strikeouts.

"I have a lot of faith in him," Maddon said. "I'll put him in any situation — hot spot or whatever you want to call it. No doubt.

"I don't want to lose the game in the sixth inning if that's the vital moment. He's the kinda guy where you say, 'CJ, we need you in the sixth,' it's not going to impact his psyche. It's not like he's not gonna be ready because you're surprising him. He'll be ready.

"He's the kinda guy you want in a big moment — a dirty moment — inning in progress and he can still hold his own and work his way through it. I like him in that moment."

Edwards attributes a lot of his success in the "dirty" moments to getting in control of his emotions and keeping his breathing in rhythm. 

That was something he spent a lot of time working on last season after getting a cup of coffee in the big leagues toward the end of 2015.

Edwards understood the mental component of the game and as he got in control of his emotions through breathing, his confidence soared. A 2.84 ERA in eight postseason games during the Cubs' World Series run certainly helped, too.

"[My confidence] is pretty much the same as it was last year," he said. "I try to stay in the middle. I don't try to get too high or anything. 

"I try to keep it as simple as possible. Just try to go out there and do what I have to do to get outs and help my team."

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Edwards said he has a good feel for all his pitches right now and knows in a Joe Maddon bullpen, he can be called upon at any time, in any situation. 

Which is just the way he likes it.

"I feel like from last year to this year, I would be put in the fire," Edwards said. "When everything gets running and they call [down to the bullpen], I have a good feeling it could be me. I like that role — has a lot of pressure and a lot of adrenaline."

The Cubs have made sure not to overuse the 25-year-old Edwards, refusing to pitch him on back-to-back days with an eye on keeping his rail-thin frame healthy down the stretch.

But Edwards may make that a hard thing to stick by as the 2017 progresses as he proves he can be effective — and dominant — in any situation. 

Maddon pointed to Edwards' exchange with Cardinals slugger Jedd Gyorko Thursday where Edwards threw a 2-2 curveball the Cubs thought was in the zone but didn't get the call. So Edwards came right back on the full count with another curveball, this one undoubtedly a strike.

"That's the kinda stuff that you really get good — when you're able to have the confidence making that pitch," Maddon said. "Moving forward, they're writing stuff down, they got all the reports — he did this to Gyorko, etc.

"So that brings the fastball into play on a full count next time, too, so the hitter is uncertain. He just continues to develop."

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Pedro Strop said he feels "ready" in his return from a hamstring injury, but he and the Cubs aren't going to rush it.

The veteran reliever has missed most of May with the injury, but threw 25-pitch bullpens on both Monday and Wednesday and has reported zero issues. He said it's been more than a week since he last felt pain in the area.

But considering this is Strop's third hamstring injury in the last eight months, the Cubs want to be extra cautious to make sure this will not happen again.

Plus, there's no point in rushing him back right now, even with the bullpen struggling. The Cubs would certainly welcome Strop back to the active roster immediately, but he's going to be a huge key for them down the stretch and they need to ensure he's healthy for that.

"I think we're just being overly cautious because we don't want this to happen again," Joe Maddon said. 

But how can Cubs avoid another hamstring injury with the soon-to-be-34-year-old? 

"We're building strength, we're working hard to make it stronger instead of just, 'Oh, it's OK and pain-free, let's go out there and have the same thing happen again,'" Strop said. "We're just taking care."

He missed the final two weeks of the regular season last year and pitched through "severe pain" in the National League wild-card game after first hurting his hamstring in Washington D.C. He then missed time in spring training with an issue in the other leg.

The injuries are not all directly related, but hamstrings are tricky by nature.

"That's a hammy, man. When you mess up with those things, they keep reminding you that they're there," Maddon said. "He has to continue to be proactive with the work in between and our guys in the back there do a wonderful job rehabbing and strengthening. 

"I think some guys are just predetermined to do those kinds of things and it really stinks. But it happens. So our next best thing is to create that program that hopefully prevents it from happening again. 

"In the meantime, just really monitoring him and not pushing him too hard, etc. But hamstrings are hamstrings, man. They're just no fun. Once you pull them once, there's a chance to do it again."

Strop said he will throw another bullpen Saturday and doesn't believe he needs a rehab stint. Because this was a leg injury, he's been able to continue throwing throughout the recovery process and keep his arm strength up.

If Strop continues to report well and doesn't go on a rehab assignment, we could possibly see him back in the Cubs bullpen early next week, which would be a welcome sign for a unit that has suddenly run into some tough sledding of late.

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Pedro Strop adds another chapter to the Legend of El Mago

Pedro Strop adds another chapter to the Legend of El Mago

The Legend of El Mago continues to grow. 

Two days after Javy Baez's pinch-hit walk-off, Pedro Strop gave us a behind-the-scenes account of the ordeal.

Baez did not start that Tuesday night game because of a heel/ankle injury suffered two days earlier, but he was called on to pinch hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cubs had just battled back to tie things up when Kris Bryant hustled home on Albert Almora Jr.'s tapper in front of home plate.

It was the second straight game in which Baez didn't play, but as the ninth inning approached and the Cubs began to mount their comeback, he talked the Cubs training staff into taping his ankle and letting him pinch-hit. 

At the same time, Baez was telling fellow injured teammate Strop that he was going to make sure the Cubs won the game before extra innings.

"Oh my god, that was crazy," an animated Strop said. "We were just sitting [in the clubhouse] watching the game. We were getting ready to go to the dugout and support the boys and I was like, 'Let's go, we don't want to go to extra innings.' He's like, 'No extra innings, I'm gonna end this game right now.' 

"He started putting his shoes on and I'm like, 'Javy, you're not playing today.' And all of a sudden, I hear on the TV and they're like, 'Joe Maddon's going to his bench; Javy Baez is pinch hitting.' I was like, 'What?! Is this really gonna happen?'

"And then first pitch, it happens. Oh my god, it was crazy. I started running like crazy in here and was just screaming. It was unbelievable."

Strop — who is recovering from a hamstring injury — joked that the celebration was more proof he's nearing 100 percent health.

As for Baez, he assured everybody he would've been able to stay in Tuesday's game to play defense if it went into extra innings and he was in the starting lineup for both Wednesday and Thursday's games against the Phillies.

"I told Stroppy I was gonna end the game and he didn't believe me," Baez said. "And then everything happened and Stroppy told me, 'I thought I saw everything in baseball, but I've never seen this.' It was a great moment and I was swinging first pitch — like always."

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