CHICAGO -- In a move that came as a bit of a surprise, the Chicago Cubs placed pitcher Edwin Jackson on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a right-lat strain. With Jackson’s struggles well-documented and the Cubs searching for innings for numerous pitchers, the DL stint, while certainly unfortunate, does give the Cubs a chance to look at some of their younger arms.
Jacob Turner is already part of the bullpen and took over for Tsuyoshi Wada when Tuesday’s game resumed in the bottom of the fifth inning Thursday. Felix Doubront, scheduled for a rehab start with Double-A Tennessee on Sunday, is slated to start one end of the doubleheader against the Cardinals on Aug. 30. Dan Straily, acquired in the Jeff Samardzija trade in July and who has already made a spot start with the Cubs, has looked good in recent starts at Iowa and might deserve a chance come September.
Clearly, the Cubs have numerous intriguing arms who could help the team in the future. First, however, they need to find spots for them to fill. As of now, it’s clear that Jake Arrieta (2.61 ERA in 117⅓ innings) will be in the rotation. Kyle Hendricks (1.48 ERA in seven big league starts) appears to have a spot next season as well. Wada has been very strong in his outings, but picking up the left-hander's 2015 option, depending on the price and the team’s need, is a decision that will likely be made in the offseason. And while Travis Wood has struggled, it’s very possible he’ll return and be given an opportunity to bounce back to his form of 2013, when he tossed 200 innings and delivered a 3.11 ERA.
With Jackson putting up two of the worst seasons of his career since joining the Cubs, he has been the logical choice to be moved out of the rotation. That is not, however, an easy decision. Put aside the fact that Jackson has another two years and $22 million left on his deal after this season. Jackson, 30, is also one of the hardest-working and most respected players in the clubhouse. While some might feel that isn’t a valid reason to keep an underperforming player in his current role, it does make it easier for a manager to justify giving the player every opportunity to work through his issues.
Jackson said he’d been feeling the effects his injury for a few starts now but tried to battle through it and perform to the best of his capabilities.
“I’ve never been one to make any excuses,” the right-hander said. “I’ve never said anything to anyone about anything. You go out and you have a job to do. Once you choose to take the field, you choose to handle anything that comes with it. That’s pretty much the approach I’ve taken.
“I haven’t been out there pitching like I know I could, and I haven’t really made any complaints about anything going on with my body, because as a professional, you go out there and you don’t live by any excuses. But you battle, you battle, you battle, and it comes to the point where you have to suck up pride and do what’s best for yourself and the team.”
In his time with the Cubs, Jackson has made 57 starts, tossed 314⅓ innings and posted a rough 5.47 ERA. However, Jackson has never lashed out at the media or a fan base that’s often very critical of him -- and, to be fair, criticism comes with poor performances, which Jackson seems to understand.
“I don’t think I’ve proven to the fans or the organization of Chicago what I can do, what I’m capable of doing,” Jackson said. “Maybe a glimpse here and there, but I still think I have a lot of upside and I still have a lot to bring to the table. I just haven’t proved it. At the end of the day, you have to go out and do it on the field.”
According to Brooks Baseball, Jackson’s fastball velocity peaked in July, with an average of 94.69 mph, and dipped to a career low for a month at 93.35 mph in August. At times, Jackson appeared to have his best "stuff," but getting to it wasn’t always the easiest.
“I feel like it’s been a battle within myself, I have to really dig down and reach down to get the velocity,” Jackson said. “Earlier, it was just coming nice and easy -- I didn’t have to do anything to try to get velocity, it was pretty much there. When you’re dealing with [an injury], it causes you to make changes in mechanics, different arm slots, and as a pitcher that’s something you don’t want to do.”
Jackson pointed out that making mechanical tweaks to try to compensate for an injury can lead to an even worse injury -- and he didn’t want to a minor injury turning into a season-ender or, worse, surgery that could take him out for 2015.
And though his velocity was down, Jackson said he hasn’t lost faith in his ability.
“I haven’t lost any confidence, when I take the field, I feel like I’m the best pitcher on the field,” Jackson said. “It just hasn’t shown. I feel like I have a lot to prove to the organization and I have a lot to prove to the fans of Chicago and I feel like I still owe them a lot. I’m being paid a lucrative contract, I still owe a lot on the field and to the team.”
Jackson’s future with the team and his ability to live up to the lofty expectations that come with that large contract are a little foggy at the moment. The team could give him another shot at rediscovering the formula that made him an innings-eating, midrotation starter -- and he certainly can’t currently be described as an "innings-eater," as he hasn’t tossed seven or more in a start since May 17.
The Cubs could move him to the bullpen to see if he would be more effective in shorter bursts, though he has shown a tendency to struggle early in games. However, that might not be relevant to relieving, as a pitcher is prone to try to establish different pitches and has a different game plan when starting than when relieving.
It’s also possible that Jackson could be with another team next season, whether he’s traded or just released. But with his current contract, either of those options would be a little tricky.
Jackson has proved to have an even-keeled personality, not prone swings of emotion in good times or bad.
Unfortunately, while with the Cubs, the bad moments are the ones that have seemed to dominate. The Cubs have a lot of decisions to make this offseason -- and over the next 18 months. What happens with Jackson might be one of the more important ones.