Early on this year, Kyle Hendricks hasn’t been the consistent, calming presence atop the Cubs rotation he once was but on Monday, he showed that when he’s ‘on’, he can still twirl a gem with the best of them.
The veteran right-hander set a Cubs season-high, pitching 8 1/3 scoreless frames on the road against a powerful San Diego Padres lineup, giving Chicago a badly-needed victory on the heels of an 0-5 home stand that featured sweeps at the hands of the White Sox and Dodgers.
"“I felt really good,” Hendricks told MLB.com afterwards. “I established my fastball down in the zone. There were a couple hard-hit balls, but they were down — not up over the middle of the plate where it could hurt.”"
Hendricks allowed just three hits and one walk – which came in the ninth – while striking out seven in what was undoubtedly his best start of the season. The effort lowered his ERA on the year to 4.38, still a far cry from his career mark, but certainly getting back in a more palatable range compared to where he stood a week or two ago.
Getting Hendricks sorted out and back to his typical self will be huge for the Cubs, regardless of what the future holds. Even after Monday’s victory, Chicago is already eight games under .500, eight out in the NL Central and six out of a Wild Card spot. The margin for error is next to nil already – but no matter which way things go, Hendricks will be a critical piece.
Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks is a key – no matter how this season goes
Should the Cubs fall out of contention altogether, it’s worth wondering if Hendricks becomes a big trade chip in Jed Hoyer’s arsenal. A pitcher with an impressive postseason resume could fetch a decent return, potentially expediting the team’s rebuilding efforts.
On the other hand, if Hendricks sticks in Chicago through the end of his deal, the team needs the consistency and experience he has to offer. The rotation has, once again, been disastrous and any shot at contending depends on improved efforts from the starting pitching.
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At least for Monday night, though, those questions about the future faded into the backdrop as we were able to watch a vintage Hendricks performance and, mercifully, a drama-free Cubs victory.