Solid spring boosts Kyle Hendricks' bid for Cubs' fifth starter

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks could open the season as the team's fifth starter. His changeup has been effective this spring.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks could open the season as the team's fifth starter. His changeup has been effective this spring. Rob Dicker for the Daily Herald

 
 
Updated 3/22/2016 11:22 AM

Kyle Hendricks will take the ball for the Cubs Wednesday when they play the Texas Rangers in the Cactus League.

It's looking more and more like Hendricks has the fifth spot in the rotation sewn up, and another good outing Wednesday could go a long way toward sealing the deal.

 

In 4 spring games this year, 3 starts, Hendricks is 0-1 with a 1.29 ERA and a WHIP of 0.57. He has struck out 14 in 14 innings while walking just one.

The 26-year-old Hendricks hit a couple of speed bumps last year, finishing 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA and a WHIP of 1.16. Most notable were some mechanical issues at midseason that sent him back to the drawing board with pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Manager Joe Maddon has made no announcements on the fifth starter's job yet, but all signs point to Hendricks, who expressed gratitude to his boss for sticking with him.

"Part of that has been Joe," Hendricks said, as quoted by cubs.com. "They've shown confidence in me, they stuck with me last year when I was struggling. They've reiterated they have confidence in me, and it gives me confidence in return. He trusts me to be myself, he doesn't want me to be somebody I'm not and that feels good. I can go out there and be me and do my thing."

At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Hendricks is not an overpowering pitcher. He relies on command and putting the ball where he needs to put it. Even so, his strikeout percentage rose from 5.27 in 2014 to 8.35 last year.

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Here is what FanGraphs has to say: "His 3.95 ERA last year isn't incredibly inspiring, but most peripheral stats suggest he pitched better than that number implies. Even with the Cubs' acquisition of John Lackey, Hendricks is still fairly firmly locked into a rotation spot to begin 2016. His 13-start rookie season (2014) saw Hendricks sport a sparkling 2.46 ERA, with an impressive 1.68 walks per 9. It also had some red (or at least yellow) flags, such as his Jamie Moyer-esque 5.27 strikeouts per nine and a suspiciously low 4.9 percent home run to fly ball ratio.

"The regression monster attacked Hendricks in all the expected ways last year; his HR/FB rate surged to 12.4 percent, his strand rate dropped from 78.5 percent to 69.9 percent and his ERA jumped by nearly one-and-a-half runs."

One key this spring has been the effectiveness of Hendricks' changeup.

"It's been moving good, working good, and it's one of those things that I lost last year in the middle of the year when I got out of my mechanics," he told cubs.com. "I didn't have any depth on it, no angle. To see the depth and angle on it and the swings and misses is a good sign."

Also working in Hendricks' favor is his intellect. He seems to know what he can do and, just as important, what he can't do, and recognizing that can be half the battle.

The Cubs wanted to make sure they were covered from 1-5 in the rotation this spring. For that reason, and to be prepared for any injury, they've "stretched out" pitchers Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Travis Wood and Adam Warren. They got Warren from the Yankees for Starlin Castro.

Wood opened last season in the rotation before being sent to the bullpen and excelling there. Both Richard and Cahill were lifesavers in relief for the Cubs in the second half on their way to the playoffs.

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