Edwards fights nerves in first Cactus League start
Cubs' touted prospect able to enjoy, focus during first glimpse of big stage
MESA, Ariz. -- C.J. Edwards admitted he was nervous. He had more than a week to prepare for his first Cactus League start, and the young righty had taken the advice of his father, who told him to pray and meditate. Edwards tried to visualize his approach.
"My dad actually helped me get ready for this game," Edwards said.
But Edwards' father was back in Prosperity, S.C., and the pitcher had to rely Tuesday night on Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and catcher John Baker, who both told Edwards to just keep doing what he had been doing. The slender right-hander was a combined 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA last season at Class A Hickory and Advanced Class A Daytona. He joined the Cubs in July after being acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal. Most of members of the Cubs' front office, including president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, were in the stands in Peoria, Ariz., on Tuesday night to watch Edwards.
Edwards didn't see them because, as he says, he has great "tunnel vision." The 22-year-old had enough to think about.
"I went out there the first inning, and nerves were crazy," Edwards said of his start against the Padres. "I can't even explain the nerves I had. Overall being out there, I felt like I should be out there."
Edwards retired the first batter, and Seth Smith singled, but he then got Kyle Blanks to hit into a double play and end the inning. The second wasn't as smooth, as Xavier Nady singled to lead off and reached third on an error by Ryan Kalish. Rene Rivera hit a sacrifice fly, and Edwards then walked the next two batters. That prompted a visit from Bosio.
Edwards regrouped and got a groundout, and then struck out Andrew Cashner to end the inning. In the third, Edwards again retired the first batter, then Smith singled and Blanks walked. Bosio again came to the mound, along with all the infielders. Edwards caught his breath, then served up a double to Nady and a sacrifice fly before he was lifted.
"I went out and talked to him and said, 'Are you a little nervous?' and he said, 'Yeah, a little bit,'" Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.
As Edwards walked off the field, Baker said something to him.
"His exact words were, 'Hey, you did a hell of a job, man, and you've got a bright future ahead. Just stay with it,'" Edwards said, smiling.
A lot of players are so overcome by the moment that they can't stop shaking the first time on a mound, even if it is Spring Training.
"I actually wasn't that nervous on the mound," Edwards said. "After I came in the first inning, my right knee just started going by itself, and I was trying to look around and hold it down, but it didn't work, so I let it bounce."
Edwards also got a supportive visit from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who came over to the mound in the second after the pitcher walked two in a row.
"He comes up to me, and he goes, 'Hey, do you want to play first base?' I was like, 'Yeah, let's switch,'" Edwards said.
But they didn't. It wasn't just Baker or Rizzo, it was everyone on the Cubs giving Edwards support. They've all been there.
"Overall, the guys were behind me 100 percent and they have faith in me," he said.
The Cubs just have to figure out a way to add some muscle to Edwards' skinny body. He weighed 165 on Tuesday, no change from January, when he said he began eating everything in sight. In fact, Edwards gorged on a large order of French toast at the Breakfast Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday morning. He couldn't finish the eggs and sausage but did eat all the bread.
"He's definitely eating," Renteria said. "He must have a tremendously fast metabolism." Edwards could relax once his outing was over.
"Like I tell everybody, I enjoyed it," Edwards said. "I feel I can be out there any time to help the club when the time comes. The guys that we have up are already doing great. We'll have our ups and downs, but we'll go out there each and every day 110 percent. When that day comes and I get the call, I feel I'll be ready to come up there."
Hopefully, Tuesday's start will make it easier when Edwards does get promoted.
"Now, I feel my first game there [at Wrigley Field], I won't be as nervous, but then again, it'll be Chicago, and there will be over 100,000 fans there," he said, overestimating the ballpark's attendance by about 60,000. "It's a little different here. It was wonderful. The outcome wasn't good, but overall just being around those guys was fantastic."
Edwards isn't sure where he'll open the 2014 season, although the Cubs have said it could be Double-A Tennessee. He can only hope he's matched up with his roommates like Duane Underwood, who made the drive to Peoria to cheer on the right-hander. There were more people in the stands than in Edwards' hometown.
"I believe there was," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.