How Cubs' Kyle Hendricks manages his climb to the top
Quick. Who are the Chicago Cubs' all-time pitching leaders in postseason games started?
First you have Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, the Hall of Famer who started 7 World Series games for the powerhouse Cubs teams of the early 20th Century.
You also have co-aces Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, who have 7 starts apiece over the past two postseasons.
Joining them is Kyle Hendricks.
"That is amazing. Are kidding me?" Hendricks said recently at Cubs spring-training camp in Mesa, Arizona. "A team that's been around that long? Yeah, that doesn't feel right at all. That doesn't make sense. That's wild to think about. I never would have thought that."
At the still-young age of 27, Hendricks may be in position to take the overall lead in postseason starts and hold the record for a long time.
Last year was a breakthrough season all the away around for Hendricks. He went 16-8 with a major-league-leading 2.13 ERA and finished third in the balloting for the National League Cy Young Award behind winner Max Scherzer of the Nationals and Lester.
Hendricks kept going in the postseason, getting 1 start in the division series, 2 in the championship series and 2 in the World Series, including Game 7. He put up a 1.42 ERA in the postseason.
More on Game 7 in a bit.
How did Hendricks process it all?
"A lot of time just sitting there in thought trying to soak it in. But I still don't think it's fully set in, even what you've done, just drawing on how I relied on my routine and the things I did to get myself ready to deal with those experiences," he said. "Those are the things that I really remember and build off, and hopefully I can just take those into the future with me this year and coming years.
"It's very tough to remember a lot of those moments. Remembering what you did, how you went about your work to get yourself ready for those games was a big experience builder for me."
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander is not an overpowering pitcher. But he has helped himself immensely by developing a pair of change-ups to get out both right-handed and left-handers hitters. According to FanGraphs, he upped usage of the changeup from 20 percent in 2015 to 27.1 percent last year.
"It was huge, especially when I started doing it when I was in Triple-A, throwing both change-ups," he said. "It took some time to learn to use which one, in which situations to use which one. Yeah, I really settled into it last year and found out where I like to use it, where I have confidence with each changeup against lefties and righties. It just gives them a different look, two different pitches they have to think about."
So how do they work?
"Basically, one's a four-seam changeup that goes straight down or cuts a little bit," he said. "The other one is a two-seam changeup that kind of fades or sinks. So it's basically off a four-seam or two-seam fastball. You want to give them the same look. Hitters are so good these days. They can see the spin on the ball, see it coming out of your hand. To have the appearance of the same, a four-seam fastball, a four-seam changeup or a two-seam fastball to a two-seam changeup, the similar appearances, I think, just throws them off."
Now about that Game 7 start. Hendricks said he has not watched a replay of the game that gave the Cubs their first world championship since 1908. But he says he remembers walking onto Progressive Field in Cleveland on Nov. 2 and taking it all in.
"I just kept telling myself, 'Look at the opportunity you have in front of you,' " he said. "From knowing that, by the time that I did walk out onto the field, I was able to look around and see all the fans. They start chirping at you. That's part of the game that you love. Once you're in that environment, that element, it was really special. You could tell it was a different feeling, different tension in the air definitely amongst the crowd."
It became more "different" when manager Joe Maddon took Hendricks out of the game after just 4 ⅔ innings The Cubs entered the bottom of the fifth inning leading the Indians 5-1. Hendricks got two quick outs before he walked Carlos Santana. Maddon yanked Hendricks in favor of Lester, saying that was the plan all along if trouble arose.
The Indians scored 2 runs that inning. After the Cubs got 1 back on David Ross' homer in the sixth, Cleveland tied the game in the eighth before the Cubs wound up winning the game 8-7 in 10 innings.
Those pitching moves have been dissected ever since, but Hendricks insists he's OK with it all.
"Everybody's asking it," he said. "My answer is, as a competitor in the moment, obviously you never want to come out. But nobody can sit in Joe's position and make those decisions in real time. You're never going to have a perfect manager. There are never perfect decisions.
"In that game there were so many other factors people don't see. I got into a few jams that kind of hurt me getting deep into the game. You have to get guys warm in a Game 7 like that. Once you start getting guys up in the pen, then you've got to use them eventually or else you're going to lose them.
"I knew going into the game if I were to get 4 innings even, it was going to be a long start for me. With all that being said, (Maddon) is the guy that we have at the helm, and trust me, I trust him with everything."
Shortly after that game, both Maddon and Hendricks were fitted for World Series rings.
"We did it," Hendricks said. "That's all that matters."
Hendricks at a glance
Some key numbers for Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks:
Year: W-L; ERA; WHIP
2014: 7-2, 2.46, 1.08
2015: 8-7, 3.95, 1.16
2016: 16-8, 2.13, 0.97
Career: 31-17, 2.92, 1.07