'Perfect place for me': Nats saved Edwards Jr.'s career

March 22nd, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One thing is certain: right-hander will be part of the Nationals’ bullpen this season -- and the team is hoping he remains consistent like he did last year.

In 2022, Edwards was arguably Washington’s best reliever, leading the bullpen in ERA (2.76) and finishing eighth on the team with 1.3 WAR.

It was a comeback season for Edwards, who would like to forget the previous three years, which were filled with injuries and inconsistency with the Cubs, Padres, Mariners, Braves and Blue Jays. Edwards couldn’t do much right, but he remembered something Nationals manager Dave Martinez told him in 2018 when he was with the Cubs: “If you are ever in a bind, we have a place for you [in Washington].”

At first, Edwards laughed. At the time, he was still going strong in Chicago.

Edwards' friendship with Martinez dates back to their days with the Cubs. Martinez was the bench coach and Edwards was a key figure out of the bullpen during the club's World Series title run in 2016.

Three years later, Edwards found himself in a bind. It looked like no one was interested in his services, but then he heard from Martinez who said, “Remember, I told you, ‘I got you, man. You got me.’”

The Nationals signed Edwards to a Minor League contract on March 8, 2022. His contract was selected by the team on May 10, and he hasn’t looked back. Every time the 31-year-old is on the mound, he thinks about Martinez and his teammates. That’s how badly he wants to win with the Nats.

“When we were able to get him here, I told him, ‘If you can just focus on throwing strikes, just throw strike one, you are going to bounce back. That’s all that I want you to do. You don’t have to throw 100 [mph]. Just throw strike one,'" Martinez said. "He came in, he worked really hard and he believed in throwing the ball over plate. The next thing you know, he had some success, and he just ran with it.”

What changed for Edwards? He started using his changeup.

He had the pitch in his arsenal for years, but he was afraid to use it. But the change of scenery made him decide to use it, and now, opponents wish it never existed. They hit .206 against Edwards’ changeup in 2022.

“If I have success, I’m going to keep doing it,” Edwards said. “I know if last year was my last year, I could leave this game and be satisfied, because I went out the way I wanted to go out. I didn’t second-guess myself and I trusted myself.”

Then, Edwards decided to have fun on the mound. The way he saw it, baseball is a kid’s game and he knew he wasn’t going to be successful all the time.

“But the days that you have [success], you don’t get too high above yourself, and the other days, you don’t get too low -- stay in the middle,” Edwards said. “It’s one thing to be playing somewhere and you are there, but it’s another to play somewhere where you feel welcomed, feel at home. The Nationals welcomed me with open arms. That’s what I felt when I arrived here. … Coming here was really good for me.”

Edwards is staying healthy by using the “C.J. Edwards program.” It’s about keeping it simple and playing catch a lot more. Playing catch on the side on a regular basis, he said, has helped his arm stay healthy.

“I wanted to see if it built longevity and it did,” Edwards said. “Just doing something over and over. I think that was the difference."

There is another reason for his success last year -- his wife, Anquinette, and children, Ava and Tre. Carl put it in his head that he wants his children to see him have success in the game. His daughter was just 1 year old when the Cubs won their first World Series title since 1908, so she doesn’t remember that great year.

“They are in my corner. When I was going through those injuries [and some fans were criticizing me], my family was saying, ‘Who cares? Don’t worry. They are behind a screen. You are here because [the teams] want you here. This is not a mistake,'" Edwards said. "They were just there constantly. They were letting me know everything was going to be great. I just took that and I ran with it.

“Another thing I learned was not to take what happens on the field home. My kids and my wife have nothing to do with what happened on the field. There is no need for me to go home and take it out on them.”