After the Chicago Cubs traded Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres, there was no longer any debate over who was the leader of this rotation. The title of ace belonged to right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who wound up getting the Opening Day nod for the second consecutive year to open the 2021 season.
But unlike his first Opening Day start, in which he dominated the Milwaukee Brewers with a complete game shutout, this time around went quite differently. And things haven’t really improved from there, either. If anything, Hendricks has only gotten worse – and it’s proving costly for a Cubs team that’s trying to keep its head above water early on.
Against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night, the 2016 ERA champion lasted just 3 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs as Chicago dropped its fifth straight contest. On the year, the right-hander’s ERA climbed to 7.54.
"“This is really bad right now,” Hendricks said after his latest clunker. “I need to just simplify my focus, get back to establishing my heater with the right action that I’d normally have on it and start with that. I’ve got to start as simple as I can.”"
More from Cubbies Crib
- Cubs should keep close eye on non-tender candidate Cody Bellinger
- Cubs starting pitching has been thriving on the North Side
- Make no mistake: the Cubs are very much about power hitters
- Cubs are giving pitcher Javier Assad a deserved shot
- Cubs: It’s time to start thinking about potential September call-ups
Hendricks added that he plans to look into whether or not he’s tipping his pitches and, at this point, you have to explore every possibility because without him, the Cubs have no chance of being even remotely competitive – let alone defend their status at NL Central champs.
His change-up and curveball, his two go-to pitches in recent years, along with his patented sinker, have been getting hit – hard. While opposing batters are hitting his sinker at just a .189 clip on the year, they’re hitting .400 against his change and .364 against the curve. Without those pitches being effective, Hendricks is a one-trick pony.
Cubs need more from Kyle Hendricks
No matter how you slice his performance so far, it’s been ugly. His barrel rate has tripled since last year, hard-hit rate is up a full 10 percent and he’s just not missing bats. Hendricks is walking more batters, allowing more home runs and failing to do what the team needs: be the stopper when the club is on the rocks.
"“Obviously a low point,” Hendricks said. “Just searching right now. Not right, trying different things out there. I was attacking, mentally felt better but just got to keep working. I’ve got a long way to go.”"
Chicago’s starting rotation is full of question marks. Really, that’s all they have right now: questions, with no clear answers. Trevor Williams and Jake Arrieta have been bright spots, but could be due for serious regression – and Zach Davies has been a disaster in the same way Hendricks has.
You’d like to think that, given Hendricks’ resume, he’ll work his way back out of this. But we’re almost a month in and so far, there’s little cause for optimism watching him on the mound.