Cubs beat Twins in last exhibition; Hendricks ready for opener
Technically, Friday will be the first opening-day start of Kyle Hendricks' career.
It will happen on July 24 -- not early April -- with no fans in the seats at Wrigley Field, but Hendricks will try to appreciate the milestone.
"I think I relished in the moment of getting that respect and that appreciation from my teammates, especially the other starters on this group. That's what I loved," Hendricks told reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday. "All the love they gave to me, that really meant a lot."
Jon Lester was the opening-day starter in four of the past five years. Jake Arrieta got the nod in 2016.
"It's something on a list that you're always going to want, obviously," Hendricks said. "At the end of the day, to me personally, it really doesn't mean much. I'm just so excited to get back out there on the field with my teammates and playing to win. I relished in it maybe for a second with my guys and my family, but other than that, back to normal."
The Cubs finished their three-game exhibition slate by beating Minnesota 4-3 on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. Anthony Rizzo returned to the lineup after recovering from a sore back and promptly belted a 2-run home in the first inning. Rizzo added a single in the second inning.
Catcher Willson Contreras delivered home runs in the first and third innings to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead. Rizzo and Contreras collected 5 of the 6 Cubs hits on the night, while Ian Happ singled to lead off the game and scored on Rizzo's home run.
Kris Bryant was scratched from the lineup due to back soreness. Manager David Ross said Bryant would be available to pinch-hit and would likely have played if it was a regular-season game.
Jon Lester got the start on the mound and allowed 1 run in 4 1/3 innings, with 4 strikeouts and 2 walks on 66 pitches. Relievers Dillon Maples, Casey Sadler, Kyle Ryan, Duane Underwood and Brad Wieck finished the game, with Maples and Ryan getting tagged for runs.
The Cubs held a simulated game in the afternoon for pitcher Alec Mills. Ross confirmed that Mills will be the team's fifth starter if all goes according to plan, at least until Jose Quintana returns from a hand injury. Mills has gotten 6 starts for the Cubs over the past two seasons.
"He's done everything he needed to do," Ross said of Mills. "He was in competition for that in the spring, that Chatty (Tyler Chatwood) won. Alec's done a great job. Wanted to give him some live looks and piggyback Jon (Wednesday), but we've just got too many relievers that need to see live competition and make our minds up on a few guys."
The Cubs need to identify their 30-man roster for opening night by 11 a.m. Thursday.
Asked if the Cubs have any plans to honor racial injustice protests that have been seen around the league, Ross hinted at something in the works before Friday's game.
"We've had multiple meetings on the racial injustice topic," Ross said. "We've got a plan in place of opening day that these guys are unified with. There really has been some great discussions, some great conversations, learning a lot about things that we don't see or what other people have been going through.
"It's been really powerful, I think, for this group to have those discussions and brought us closer together, in my opinion."