If you just look at the stats, Kyle Hendricks is having a rough season.
The 25-year-old righty is 0-1 with a 5.15 ERA, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
Hendricks has pitched into some bad luck (as a 3.91 FIP would indicate) and is just a couple pitches away from having a much better record and stat line. (Of course, the same can be said for dozens of pitchers around the league.)
The Cubs want more from the back end of their rotation and with Hendricks' inexperience, it wouldn't be shocking to see the team send him down to Triple-A if his struggles continue to work out the kinks a bit. Japanese lefty Tsuyoshi Wada is due to conclude his minor-league rehab assignment Saturday with Triple-A Iowa.
Still, Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes what he sees from Hendricks, who was on a roll Friday before the wheels came off in the sixth inning against the Pirates.
Hendricks had given up only one run before a couple of basehits fell just out reach of Cubs fielders and then Pittsburgh's No. 8 hitter (Francisco Cervelli) connected on a two-out, three-run double off the right field wall.
"He looked good," Maddon said. "I thought he was going seven. I really thought he had a solid chance. It was like low-to-mid-90s [pitch count] when it all broke loose a little bit. If he gets out of there with 90-95 pitches — which was definitely a possibility — he's going 110 yesterday and seven [innings] and he's feeling really good about himself."
Hendricks tallied seven strikeouts in his 5.2 innings of work, but he boasts just a 5.9 K/9 ratio in 117 big-league innings. All that contact means more of a chance for hitters to find some grass.
"You look at Kyle's numbers; they can be very deceptive," Maddon said. "Part of it is, he's not necessarily a punch-out guy, so the ball's gonna be put in play and sometimes you're unlucky when the ball is put in play. The punch-out guy can avoid that moment."
After a ton of minor-league success (2.69 ERA in four seasons), Hendricks got out to a roaring start with the Cubs after his big-league debut in 2014.
He made 13 starts for the big-league club down the stretch, going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, finishing seventh in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Hendricks doesn't have the stuff or pedigree of a young pitcher like Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole (whom the Cubs faced Saturday), but Hendricks can still provide value as a fourth or fifth starter on the North Side.
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Things didn't work out for Hendricks Friday, but Maddon is trying to put the second-year pitcher in a position to succeed down the line.
"With Kyle, you're trying to build his confidence regarding letting him stay in to get this particular job done," Maddon said. "You have this opportunity now to go seven, but you gotta get through this mess. It didn't play [Friday].
"I was showing him that I had confidence that he could get through that moment. That matters, too, even though it didn't happen."