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Cubs want longer outings from Edwin Jackson

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Updated: August 26, 2014 6:38AM



Assuming the Cubs don’t trade him and the injury (right hand cramping) he left with Thursday night isn’t serious, there will be a lot of Edwin Jackson down the stretch. In dealing Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics, the Cubs sent away two of their innings-eating starters who were capable of saving the bullpen on any day.

But with those two chasing a pennant in California, it will fall in part to the veteran Jackson to help spare a set of relievers from overuse. There is a complication, however: The Cubs need Jackson to pitch better than he has since he signed his four-year, $52 million contract before the 2013 season.

“He’s got good stuff,” manager Rick Renteria said before the game Thursday against the San Diego Padres. “He’s got a good fastball, good breaking ball. His off-speed pitches when he uses his changeup are very good.”

That might be true, but it hasn’t helped Jackson during much of his time with the Cubs. He went five-plus innings and allowed four earned runs while throwing 87 pitches and walking one in the Cubs’ 13-3 loss against the Padres. He showed some flashes of why the Cubs invested that money in him, but he also showed why he has been one of the more perplexing players of the Theo Epstein era.

Jackson allowed two runs in the first inning after getting the first two batters. In the fifth, he gave up Rene Rivera’s leadoff homer but pitched his way around two wild pitches. Then he started the sixth with his first walk and a sharp single before his hand cramped up, and he left the mound with a trainer.

John Baker, who caught Jackson, said he doesn’t think success is “too far away” for the right-hander, whose ERA rose to 5.68.

“It’s not like he goes out there and gives up 12 hits and doesn’t strike anybody out and walks five guys,” Baker said. “He goes out and strikes out quite a few people and walks a couple of guys and gives up a couple of hits, and he’s out of the game at 90 pitches.”

But with the departures of Samardzija and Hammel plus the need to save the bullpen over the last two months, those 90-pitch outings might not last too much longer. Baker thinks more pitches would help Jackson, as would the idea of keeping things simple and allowing him to throw pitches he’s comfortable with.

“I think he’s been around a long time and he’s pretty smart, so he knows what he wants to do,” Baker said. “I think sometimes what he wants to do gets in the way of what he can do, and we’ve just got to keep him in situations where he can throw pitches that he’s comfortable with, that he can execute, and get him into a good rhythm because he’s very rhythmic.”

Renteria sees things similarly and said Jackson needs to “command the zone.”

“And again, it’s just following the plan,” Renteria said, “having an idea of what he wants to do and just be himself and go out there and pitch.”

NOTE:

Arismendy Alcantara started at second base, and Emilio Bonifacio was in center field. Alcantara, who will spend more time in center this season, had played center field the first two games of the series.



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