Cubs

Maddon likes what he sees from Hendricks despite results

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Maddon likes what he sees from Hendricks despite results

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.

[MORE: Cubs' Joe Maddon: The world revolves around confidence]

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.

[RELATED: As bullpen settles in, Cubs feeling comfortable in one-run games]

"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."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: