C.J. Edwards debuts, nerves and all

PEORIA, Ariz. -- If Chicago Cubs prospect C.J. Edwards’ pitching ability catches up to his personality, the team might have a star on its hands.

Edwards sailed through an easy first inning -- despite some serious nerves -- before giving up three runs on four hits and three walks in the final 1.2 innings of his major league spring debut on Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres.

"I can't even explain the nerves that I had,” Edwards said afterward. “My right knee started going by itself. I was like looking around, trying to hold it down, but it didn’t work, so I let it bounce.”

Edwards threw 49 pitches, with the last 44 coming in the second and third innings as he struggled with his command. Cubs brass, including president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, looked on from behind home plate as one of their prized trade pieces of last season made his debut.

"I'm one of the top players in the organization that has tunnel vision,” Edwards said of ignoring his bosses. “I can't really see anyone. But I can hear everybody.”

What he heard on his big night was encouragement from his teammates as things started to go south. Twice there were meetings on the mound, with pitching coach Chris Bosio and the entire infield trying to calm Edwards down and loosen the moment.

“[Anthony Rizzo] comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey, you want to play first base?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s switch,’” Edwards said.

But what Edwards wanted to hear most came from his catcher for the night, John Baker.

“His exact words were, ‘You did a hell of a job. Your stuff will play. You have a bright future ahead,’” Edwards said.

His first inning showed what that future might hold. Edwards threw five pitches -- all of them strikes and one of which went for an easy double play.

Radar guns showed him in the low 90s. His pitches showed the movement that won him minor league pitcher of the year accolades last season. But he didn’t make as many hitters miss as he did a few days ago in a minor league game. It’s a work in progress.

Right now, Edwards is the best hope within the organization of becoming a No.1 pitcher. And his demeanor should help him get there. He prepared for his first start with long talks on the phone with his dad.

“My dad said keep praying, keep meditating,” Edwards said. “My dad helped me get ready for this game.”

And his teammates helped him get through it. There were some ups and downs, but the talent was evident.

The next step is to dominate Double-A this season and put some more weight on his slight frame; he weighed 165 after the game on Tuesday. Next spring Edwards could be ready for more than just one start with the big league team.

“The outcome wasn’t good but, overall, being around those guys, it was fantastic,” Edwards said.