WASHINGTON – This is the Edwin Jackson the Cubs thought they were getting, someone with the stuff to go up against Stephen Strasburg.
It didn’t take long for the second-guessers to wonder why the Cubs gave Jackson a four-year, $52 million contract. But through these first six weeks of the season, he hasn’t ducked the media, made weak excuses or walled himself off from teammates.
Jackson finally notched his first win in a Cubs uniform on Saturday, and good luck trying to figure out this unpredictable start. He made the game-changing play with his bat against the Washington Nationals ace with no-hit stuff.
Jackson drilled Strasburg’s 96 mph fastball over the head of centerfielder Denard Span in the fifth inning for a two-out, two-run double that landed at the base of the video board, keying an 8-2 victory in front of 37,116 fans at Nationals Park.
“You try to stay consistent,” Jackson said. “You don’t want to be the guy that’s loud and talking to everybody when you’re doing good – and once you’re doing bad you’re hardly heard from. You just got to be the same person every day and believe in yourself and believe things will turn around.”
That personality made Jackson popular inside clubhouses as he bounced around eight teams. He spent a lot of time before Friday night’s game catching up with old Washington teammates, joking with Strasburg that he was going to be ready for the heat.
Strasburg retired the first 11 batters he faced and appeared to be cruising until third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s throw sailed wide of first base for an error, the kind of mistake the Cubs (14-22) have made all season.
“It’s definitely nice to finally get the monkey off my back,” Jackson said.
Jackson (1-5, 6.02 ERA) still didn’t finish the sixth inning and wound up allowing two runs, but he won’t be turned into a very expensive reliever.
Manager Dale Sveum said Matt Garza will need at least one more rehab start after Saturday’s outing at Double-A Tennessee, buying some more time before the Cubs have to bump someone from the rotation. Sveum confirmed it won’t be Jackson, Jeff Samardzija or Travis Wood, leaving Scott Feldman or (more likely) Carlos Villanueva as the one heading to the bullpen.
But that it was even a question with Jackson shows how much the biggest free agent signed so far by the Theo Epstein administration hasn’t lived up to expectations.
“You never know what’s inside people,” Sveum said. “It’s easy to sit here and use certain things as excuses or whatever. But it is a natural emotion when you get a contract to do much more than you’re capable of doing instead of just being yourself.
“Hopefully, those kind of things are starting to go away. He just needs to be Edwin Jackson and not worry about how much money he’s making.”
While covering this front office, it’s almost become a game seeing how long before a new player is asked about the possibility of getting flipped at the trade deadline.
That’s the perception, but the Cubs structured Jackson’s four-year deal with the intention that he’d be a key part of the next contending team at Clark and Addison. General manager Jed Hoyer didn’t want to get too far into a question about whether or not those plans have changed.
“Right now, we’re just focused on getting him right,” Hoyer said. “Is he struggling now because he signed a big contract or because he’s with a new team? I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. But certainly our focus right now is getting this guy right. When Edwin’s pitching the way he can, he can really help our club.”
Even with Jackson struggling, the Cubs still began Saturday with 21 quality starts – only two National League teams had more – and a rotation ERA (3.56) that ranked fourth in the league. This whole picture will look different if Jackson’s the guy they thought he’d be.
“He’s 29 years old,” Hoyer said. “He can be a big part of our future if he gets things right.”