Cubs had to go with Kyle Hendricks, not Yu Darvish, on Opening Day
No one besides Kyle Hendricks deserved to start Opening Day for the Cubs.
What Yu Darvish did down the stretch last season was nothing short of dominant. He finally got his walks under control and, at times, looked like the bona fide ace the Cubs anticipated when they signed him ahead of the 2018 campaign. But that didn’t matter when David Ross named his Opening Day starter. That honor now belongs to Kyle Hendricks.
Since making his big league debut back in 2014, the right-hander has been one of, if not the most consistent starters for the Cubs. The last two years weren’t quite as dominant as he was back in 2016, but make no mistake – when you’re talking about aces, you can’t leave Hendricks out of the discussion.
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The 30-year-old went toe-to-toe with Darvish in an intrasquad matchup Tuesday and simply outclassed him. He was more effective and far more efficient – which has long been a staple of his repertoire. Hendricks went 6 1/3 innings on just 70 pitches; meanwhile, Darvish needed 60 pitches to get through 3 2/3.
"“He’s on par for how I’ve always thought of him,” Ross told MLB.com. “That’s exactly what I see out of Kyle Hendricks every time he goes out there: poise, execution, the ability to follow a scouting report. He’s a pitcher that I have a ton of confidence in.”"
In four of the previous five years, Jon Lester got the Opening Day nod. The lone exception to that came in 2016, when reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta took the ball against the Angels in what eventually became a World Series championship season.
But at this point in his career, Lester isn’t an ace anymore. That’s not to take anything away from him – if there’s a big game come October, this is the guy you want on the mound. His reputation and pedigree speak for themselves. Come next Friday, though, it’s time to turn the page and look to the future.
Last spring, the Cubs locked up Hendricks with a four-year, $55.5 million extension that features a vesting option for 2024. Given he doesn’t rely on overpowering hitters with velocity, he’s a prime candidate to age more gracefully than other pitchers. He’s clearly going to be an anchor for the rotation for years to come – and it’s about time he got the honor of an Opening Day start.
When you look at his body of work at Wrigley Field (the Cubs open the 2020 season at home against Milwaukee), this move is a no-brainer. Last year, he made 14 home starts and almost every time out, he took the fight to opposing clubs, working to a 0.874 WHIP, 2.04 ERA and 6.31 K/BB.
When you look at everything mentioned above, this wasn’t a hard choice. Kyle Hendricks has been a key piece to the puzzle for a half-decade; this year, he deserves to be the Opening Day starter.