Cubs: Man, what is it about Kyle Hendricks and the first inning?

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Look, I know it was just a solo shot in the opening frame of Wednesday’s loss to the White Sox, but it felt like a bad dream you wake up from, only to fall back into once you doze off. Of course, I’m talking about the first-inning struggles of Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

One-third of the home runs against Hendricks (two of six) have come in the first inning this season. Last year, he allowed eleven first-inning home runs – as opponents lit him up to the tune of a 1.013 OPS. For much of his career, the soft-tossing veteran was as reliable as an atomic clock. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case – and it’s time to understand and accept that.

Let’s be clear. This is a guy who could very well take the ball next time out and give you a quality start – or even a complete game shutout. But such outings are completely predicated on his having pinpoint control of his pitches, something he’s lacked for more than a year now.

When you rank in the bottom one percent of the league in average fastball velocity and bottom two percent in fastball spin – not to mention the bottom fifth of qualified arms in chase rate, the margin for error is microscopically small.

Cubs: Red flags abound for Kyle Hendricks early in the 2022 season

Hendricks has left his sinker and change up in the zone far too often, while continuing to struggle both with walks and home runs. His six home runs allowed this year is the third-most in all baseball and his nine percent walk rate is well above his career mark of 5.5.

Through his first six starts of the year, Hendricks has been all over the place. In half of them, he’s allowed four or more earned runs – while in the other half, he allowed a combined three runs. His last two outings, one in Milwaukee and then this week at home against the Sox, Hendricks has been a mess: 10 IP, 14 H, 10 ER, 5 HR, .391 OBP, .786 SLG.

dark. Next. Bad luck, poor offense proves costly against White Sox

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The Cubs lost both of those games and his ERA has climbed to 5.64. Again, we’re just six starts into his 2022 season, but coming off last year’s 4.89 FIP in 32 starts, we’re starting to get past the point where we can chalk it up to a ‘rough patch’.  Hendricks just hasn’t been effective or, at least, he hasn’t been so consistently – and first-inning struggles have played a huge part in that.