MESA, Ariz. -- It’s as if the two Chicago Cubs pitchers picked up where they left off last year. Edwin Jackson couldn’t make the big pitch, while Kyle Hendricks did. The results in their first spring training outings were drastically different.
Jackson started Monday and pitched two innings against the San Diego Padres. He gave up four runs on four hits, including a three-run home run by Will Middlebrooks. None of the runs were earned -- in part because of an atrocious throwing error by Jackson himself -- but that doesn’t matter. He grooved pitches just as he’s done in his two seasons with the Cubs.
Hendricks, meanwhile, gave up some hits -- three in two innings -- but got out of trouble, inducing a Middlebrooks groundout with a man on second in the third inning and striking out Justin Upton with two on in the fourth.
Afterward, the question everyone is wondering was put to Jackson: Where does he stand with the team?
“Where I stand?” he repeated it back. “Time will tell.”
Outings like Monday's -- if they keep occurring this spring -- won’t impress scouts, who will go back to their bosses and tell them no matter how much money the Cubs pick up, Jackson isn’t worth dealing for.
The right-hander is trying to focus on the positive, but it might be getting harder and harder.
“I’m here to help the team win,” he said. “Would I like to start? Yes. If I don’t start, am I going to go around and throw a temper tantrum? No.”
And while Jackson has always explained the reasons why he’s struggled -- Monday, he left a couple of “balls up in the zone” -- he has yet to fix his problems.
“You get your first taste of adrenaline and you speed it up a little bit,” he said.
It’s the exact opposite of what Hendricks does on the mound. Why can the youngster slow things down, even in a spring game, and the veteran can’t do the same?
“I think just preparation,” said Hendricks, who's set for his first full season with the Cubs after 13 starts in 2014. “They [the coaches] taught me your routine is the most important thing you have.”
Jackson knows these lessons as well. But the 12-year veteran is evidence that knowing something and executing it are two totally different notions. Maybe there will be better days this spring, but can the Cubs really head north with Jackson on the roster? Would it be fair to Jackson to subject him to boos like those he heard last year, as well as at the fan convention?
“It’s sports,” Jackson said. “People will boo in the first inning and give you a standing ovation in the seventh. I don’t let it affect me. It doesn’t get to me. It’s not the first time, it won’t be the last time. If you pitch well, the people that are booing will be the same clapping for you at the end.”
Many will point out that Jackson is getting a total of $52 million from the Cubs, so he should be able to handle the boos. And they would be right. But that doesn’t mean it’s best for the team. Everyone realizes that. So the options are to throw him in as part of a deal and pick up almost every cent of the $22 million still owed, or simply release him.
Jackson had his turn. He’s been to the playoffs and pitched a no-hitter. Hendricks flew past him last season and now has his spot in the rotation. The right-hander is ready for the next step.
“It comes down to the guys that we have,” Hendricks, 25, said. “They make everyone in the locker room feel comfortable. It’s the loosest camp I’ve been around.”
It helps to be good at your craft. And confident. Jackson has always tried to maintain a good feeling about himself, though it’s been harder and harder over the past couple of seasons. ERAs of 4.98 and 6.33 will do that to you.
“If I can throw like I know I can throw, I can be just as good as anyone in the game,” Jackson said.
He needs to prove that. And time is running out -- though it’s just beginning for Hendricks.