PHILADELPHIA – The $52 million contract already put a target on Edwin Jackson’s back, and he’ll be front and center when the Cubs trade away 40 percent of their rotation again.
Jackson unraveled during Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, and it could get ugly when Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are gone.
The Cubs like to talk about their pitching infrastructure, buying low and salvaging guys who had trouble staying healthy and needed an opportunity, fixing mechanics and coaching them up with game plans.
But they can’t quite figure out the signature free agent signed by the Theo Epstein administration.
“The mentality doesn’t change, regardless of who is here or who isn’t here,” Jackson said. “You take the field with the same approach. I don’t really worry about everything else and who’s No. 1 or who’s No. 2. At the end of the day, once you take the field, you have to be the best pitcher that day.”
On this day, Jackson couldn’t finish the fifth inning. The Cubs faded to the background when Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins broke the franchise record for hits, passing Mike Schmidt with a line-drive single into right field for No. 2,235.
Fireworks went off as the Hall of Famer walked onto the field to embrace Rollins, who got mobbed by his teammates and a standing ovation from the crowd of 31,524.
Jackson said the short celebration didn’t throw off his rhythm. Moments later, Domonic Brown crushed a 94 mph fastball into the right-field seats for a three-run homer that gave the Phillies a 7-3 lead.
“That was a s----- job of executing pitches,” Jackson said, “(not) bearing down and making a pitch with two strikes and two outs. That’s what happens when you leave the ball over the plate.
“Especially after your team had battled to get back in the game and get within striking distance and you (put) traffic on the bases…it was a terrible job of execution.”
That was the end for Jackson, who seems to have trouble in the first inning – opponents have posted a 1.024 OPS on pitches 1 through 15 – and a tendency to give runs right back when the Cubs tie a game or make it close. Whether that’s focus or execution or whatever, manager Rick Renteria didn’t want to get into it.
“It’s just baseball,” Renteria said. “At least, I don’t believe that he’s got anything on his mind at that point other than doing his job. And if it just so happens that he gives up a run or something, I mean, there have been other times when he hasn’t, and we don’t talk about those. Today was just not a good day.”
Jackson (4-7, 5.11 ERA) let the game swerve out of control, wasting solo homers from Mike Olt (which stopped an 0-for-20 skid), Justin Ruggiano and Luis Valbuena in the second, third and fourth innings.
Jackson led the majors with 18 losses last year and has gone more than six innings only three times in 14 starts this season. He will have even more on his shoulders when the Cubs (27-39) trade Samardzija and Hammel, which could accelerate the free fall toward 100 losses and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
“It’s hard to sit here and say a timeframe for when things are going to change,” Jackson said. “But it can start off tomorrow and a team never looks back. It’s a crazy thing in baseball. You just never know when things are going to change. But one thing’s for sure, all 25 guys in here are going to continue to battle.”
The Cubs signed Jackson thinking there could be more in there, knowing he’s a good clubhouse guy in his prime with a World Series ring, experience in rebuilding situations and an All-Star selection and a no-hitter on his resume.
But the Cubs haven’t held up their end of the bargain either, with a business/baseball plan that hasn’t aligned yet. Forget about this being the year where the team turns a corner and becomes competitive, pushing the hoped-for breakthrough back to 2016.
“You never know,” Jackson said. “Things happen quick in this game. Things can go from bad to great in the click of a finger. That’s the crazy thing about baseball. You just never know when things can turn around. But the guys we have in here definitely believe we can go out and win on a daily basis. We feel like we can go out and compete. We just have to go out on the field and prove it.”