Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks finding his rhythm on the mound

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Hendricks starting to see results after slow start

Young pitching prospects are always a crapshoot. So many variables, so much potential for injury. The Chicago Cubs know this very well. Mark Prior was can’t miss. But injury derailed a promising career. Kerry Wood had a successful career, much of it with the Cubs. But he never met those high expectations. The good thing for Kyle Hendricks was that not many had “high” expectations for him. But a slow start had some concerned that maybe last season was fluke and that he got by because hitters were unfamiliar with him.

Last season couldn’t have gone any better for Hendricks. He finished the season 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts. He was never assured a spot in the rotation, but it was never said he would have to fight for it either. With Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel, the Cubs simply needed No. 4 starter results from him. Anything like last season would be a bonus. But a slow start and the inability to go deep into games began to pique curiosity if he would keep his spot. That intensified after veteran Travis Wood was moved to the bullpen after his consistent struggles as a starter.

But what Hendricks may lack in “stuff”, he more than makes up for with study and for the lack of a better word, guile. He doesn’t have the big fastball. And in the world of baseball this day, speed kills. So the belief of most scouts was that Hendricks didn’t have what it took to be a starter. And for a handful of outings this season, it looked as if they might be right.

Then it seemed to click.

Not surprisingly after seven starts, Hendricks needed to go the distance in the eight to get his first win of the season. The bullpen had let him down, as he had left with a lead on three occasions, but his record sat at 0-1 until the complete game masterpiece against the San Diego Padres. He was the Hendricks we had seen in flashes last year that had escaped us in 2015. No walks, just seven strikeouts, and needed just 108 pitches to go the distance.

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He followed that with a no-decision against one of the hottest teams in baseball in the Washington Nationals. A solo home run would be all he would allow in seven innings as he lowered his ERA to 3.76 on the season. After pitching six innings just once, he’s now gone nine and seven in his last two starts.

The long ball has been one of the biggest differences this season for Hendricks, as he’s allowed five in 9 starts after allowing just four in 13 starts last year. But control has also been an issue. Not necessarily in walks, but in getting behind in counts and having to make tough pitches. His BAbip (batting average on balls in play) this season is .291 while last year he sat at .275. Balls are simply finding their way by fielders because he hasn’t gotten ahead. In his last two games, he’s seen his BAbip drop to .205 with his pitch count being more manageable.

Based on last season combined with his last two outings, Hendricks has gotten control over whatever issue he was having, mechanical or otherwise. If these last two starts are indicative of what we’ll get out of our No. 4 starter? The summer is going to be an entertaining one.

Next: Is Schwarber hitting his way to Chicago in 2015?

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