Teams across the league spent much of the offseason adding to their pitching depth, knowing it’s a lot to ask a typical five-man rotation to eat a ton of innings coming off a 60-game season.
Well, it sounds like someone forgot to tell Kyle Hendricks. The Chicago Cubs ace is looking to be a steadying hand on the tiller of this team and rotation in 2021 and he’s not talking about pulling back on the reins in any way, shape or form. He sounds more like a guy ready to ambush the league and take home the Cy Young at year’s end.
"“I just want to be there,” Hendricks told MLB.com on Wednesday, as pitchers and catchers reported to camp, “be that consistent force for these guys, take the ball every fifth day and they know what they can get out of me.”"
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The 31-year-old right-hander got the ball on Opening Day last year and did not disappoint, tossing a complete game shutout over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. There’s zero chance, barring injury, he’s not the Opening Day starter again this season – and, as we all know, this guy is built for those ‘big’ games.
After all, he dominated the clinching game of the 2016 NLCS in which the Cubs captured their first pennant in more than a half-century. Then, he followed it up by taking the ball in a winner-take-all Game 7 in the World Series, showing no signs of nerves, going about his business as he always has.
Cubs need Kyle Hendricks at his best
The Cubs will need a healthy, effective Kyle Hendricks atop this particular starting rotation, which has more questions than perhaps any other since he got his first taste of big league action back in 2014. One year later, Chicago emerged from its rebuild, sparking one of the winningest stretches in franchise history.
Last year, Hendricks made a dozen starts, pitching the third-most innings in the league en route to a 2.88 ERA and 0.996 WHIP. His 0.9 walks per nine led all NL hurlers and his 8.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best in all of baseball. In short, he was the guy Cubs fans have known to come and love: quiet, unassuming and ready to go head-to-head with any lineup in the game.
"“I think I’m ready to take on a full load again,” Hendricks said.”I know what it’s like to go through a full season, so I can lean on that experience.”"
It seems pretty unlikely David Ross and Tommy Hottovy take the training wheels of Hendricks given his importance to the team, but if he goes out and executes as he’s historically done, it’ll be difficult to take the ball out of his hand and put it in the care of a pretty questionable mix of bullpen arms.
One thing is for sure: Hendricks is ready to be back on the mound – and has no intentions of taking his foot off the gas coming out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.