Your Morning Phil: Sale, Jackson, Castillo

Talking baseball while wondering if Mark Cuban is serious about the Mavericks drafting Brittney Griner.

1. When Yu Darvish went out to work the ninth inning last night in Houston, he was facing three hitters who were looking for their first hits of the season. The Astros were playing only their second game, but Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan and Marwin Gonzalez were 0-for-10 when they lined up to try to stop Darvish from throwing a perfect game.

Gonzalez did that, of course, hitting a hard grounder that went right through the legs of the 6-foot-5 Darvish. This was one time it didn’t pay to be tall.

Darvish’s near perfect game was only one of several gems that were thrown in the first few days of the season. Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander and Darvish combined for 67 scoreless innings in their season debuts, allowing 29 hits and striking out 69.

Clearly, the great pitchers are ahead of the hitters.

In the first three days of the season, teams averaged 3.5 runs per game. Twenty-five of 40 starting pitchers turned in quality starts. Pretty impressive.

Strong pitching still shuts down hitting, as it always has. That’s why teams pay so much to keep their guns from going onto the free-agent market.

The deals given Verlander ($180 million, seven years) and Hernandez ($175 million, seven years) show why the White Sox are so thrilled to have Sale signed for only $32.5 million over five years, albeit early in his career when teams can avoid breaking the bank.

If the White Sox exercise their options for the 2018 and ’19 seasons, the deal reportedly is worth $57.5 million over seven years. It could turn into one of the most club-friendly contracts in the game, giving the Sox the flexibility to build a team behind him.

2. Edwin Jackson makes his Cub debut Wednesday night, and he’s coming off an exasperating final tuneup. He struck out nine in four innings in Houston but didn’t hit stride until after he had allowed the Astros to score five runs.  Jackson has been one of baseball’s biggest teases throughout his career, showing a plus slider and plus fastball but never quite becoming a plus pitcher.

“That is an M.O. from some of his outings, some of his games,’’ Dale Sveum said of last Friday’s game against the Astros. “With that stuff, you look up and there’s already four or five runs on the board. We have to get a grip on that. He has to come in with some intensity. We have to get (effectiveness) out of him on a daily, inning-by-inning basis.’’

3. Sveum and Theo Epstein brought exaggerated shifts to the Cubs’ infield last season. That remains a part of their defensive strategy in 2013, with a new element added to it. That’s the throw behind the runner from catcher Welington Castillo. He’s been using his strong arm as a weapon all spring, firing down to first when a runner takes a strong secondary lead and sometimes to second, as well. He has picked off runners but there’s also a subtle benefit to the strategy. When scouting reports circulate that say Castillo will fire to first, runners will take shorter leads. That makes it a little bit harder to go from first to third or to score from second on a single.

“Wely’s got the arm to make those throws,’’ Sveum said. “(Catching coach) Mike Borzello has been working with our guys on that. They’ve worked hard and it is paying off. Runners better pay attention. It can make a difference ... it’s not going to be dramatic but it’s one of those little things that can help. Over the course of 162 games, it might win you a game or two.’’

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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