Cubs need to let Jackson stretch it out

CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Cubs want to protect their young relievers -- a topic lately around Wrigley Field -- then why aren't they letting a pitcher like Edwin Jackson stay in games longer?

If they're going to start the struggling pitcher in the first place how about letting him earn his paycheck by eating up some more innings?

"It's been a tough stretch for me lately," Jackson said after his short, four-inning stint on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies. "It seems like anything that can happen does happen."

Jackson is nearly untradeable as he's owed $22 million over the next two seasons after this one. He's 13-29 since joining the Cubs, but if he wants to help he should suffer through a few more innings to save his teammates.

"It would have been foolish to send him back out there after 105 pitches in four innings," manager Rick Renteria said of his Tuesday outing.

Says who? Not Jackson.

"As a starter you always want to go back out," he said. "I definitely would have taken one for the team (Tuesday). Regardless of the pitch count, I still feel strong."

No one knew the Cubs would play 16 innings on Tuesday and require their catcher to pitch the final inning but that's not the point. Jackson and Travis Wood need to hold up their end of the bargain considering the Cubs are starting rookies in the final two spots in the rotation and have a young, overused bullpen.

"We have to try and put our finger on whatever the stumbling block is," Renteria said of Jackson's woes.

Fine, let him figure it out on the mound. On Tuesday, Jackson gave up three first-inning runs but nothing else. It was a 3-3 game when he came out. Who cares if he was at 105 pitches? Consider this: In 2012, the year before Jackson signed with the Cubs, he threw at least 105 pitches 10 times that season playing for the Washington Nationals. In nearly two seasons with the Cubs, he's thrown that many pitches or more a total of nine times including just four this season when they need him the most.

But this isn't on Jackson. He wants to pitch.

"I'm accustomed to throwing a lot of pitches," Jackson said. "I felt pretty good for the most part. I had a few walks mixed in between."

On the same day Jackson was pulled after four innings, general manager Jed Hoyer spoke of being careful with his young relief corps. If only he had veterans then none of this would matter, he said after being asked if the Cubs were concerned with how Renteria is handling his bullpen.

"No concern at all," Hoyer said. "We've put him in a really difficult spot because we've had to carry an extra reliever for most of the year. And we do have some restrictions on those guys."

Yes, the restrictions on the relievers don't help but having the extra arm does. That kind of evens things out -- especially when one of the arms is Carlos Villanueva. He can throw all day but he was inexplicably pulled after 37 pitches on Tuesday as well – with two outs and none on in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game. He couldn't get one more out?

"If you have a veteran bullpen those considerations kind of go out the window," Hoyer said of limiting relievers. "I think we've given him (Renteria) a difficult task with some of these young guys."

Jackson isn't young and neither is Carlos Villanueva, but they're being treated as if they are. So what's more important, removing Jackson so the Cubs have a chance at a win or saving the bullpen arms? The latter answer is the only right one. Jackson has started at least 31 games every season since 2007 so he can handle it. And frankly, for how he's performed, it's worth the risk especially since he doesn't mind.

"As a starter you want to go as long as you can," Jackson said, "until you're tired and feel like you can't go anymore. It doesn't always work that way, but that's the mentality you have to have."

Renteria needs that mentality about his veteran as well.