Why Kyle Hendricks is the new Mr. October in Cubs rotation

Why Kyle Hendricks is the new Mr. October in Cubs rotation

WASHINGTON – The Cubs know Kyle Hendricks approaches moments like this with the kind of outward enthusiasm you would see in someone doing laundry or taking out the garbage.

That personality – never left them see you sweat or smile – combined with killing-them-softly stuff made Hendricks such an ideal Game 1 starter against the Washington Nationals.

Hendricks always seems to be The Other Pitcher on this kind of stage. Even though he already beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the night the Cubs won their first NL pennant in 71 years and outlasted Corey Kluber in last year’s unforgettable World Series Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

This time, it became all about Stephen Strasburg, the former No. 1 overall pick with the $175 million contract who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Friday night at Nationals Park. Yet once again, there was Hendricks calmly walking off the mound after pitching another game of his life, the Cubs feeling all the momentum in this best-of-five National League Division Series.

“He didn’t miss a spot,” catcher Willson Contreras said after a 3-0 win. “He didn’t miss a pitch. We did everything that we wanted to.”

Don’t act surprised: Hendricks has a World Series ring and a 1.98 ERA in eight career playoff starts. During those 41 innings against some of the world’s best hitters giving absolute focus, he has 36 strikeouts and a 1.000 WHIP. If this is a new normal, then it could be a very long October for the defending champs.

“He’s the same guy all the time, no matter what,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s not easy to do in this game. He just has this confidence about him. He doesn’t get rattled.”

[MORE CUBS-NATIONALS: Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo show Nationals why Cubs are the defending champs]

One scout tracking the Cubs for another playoff team thought Hendricks would be a particularly good Game 1 matchup against a fastball-happy Washington lineup. The thinking: The Nationals would have to wait five days for the playoffs to start after the regular season ended and his different looks would disrupt their timing even more.

Hendricks kept the Nationals completely off-balance, allowing only two singles and three walks and finishing with six strikeouts during those seven shutdown innings and using the rush from those 43,898 fans to hover around 90 mph when needed.

“I’m just a laid-back guy, but you’re definitely feeling it,” Hendricks said. “The energy there in the stadium and the crowd was pretty cool, but we’ve played some big games, even down the stretch in our division. We’ve had good atmospheres, so we were ready to take that adrenaline on and use it to our advantage.”

From there, Hendricks can precisely locate those fastballs wherever he wants and the extra velocity creates different dimensions for the changeups that he can cut or fade. The Dartmouth College graduate became the perfect match for the team’s elaborate game-planning system, understanding all the trouble spots within the strike zone for a powerful Washington lineup.

“He’s always locked in,” Contreras said. “From the moment that he gets to the ballpark, he’s always quiet. He’s focused on what he wants to do, and he knows the hitters. He has his plan.”

Hendricks still flies under the radar on a team loaded with players who have first-round/top-prospect pedigrees and high-profile free agents with big contracts. But with Jon Lester knowing he didn’t deserve this Game 1 start, Jose Quintana having zero postseason experience and Jake Arrieta recovering from a Grade 1 hamstring strain, the Cubs need Hendricks to be the new Mr. October in their rotation.

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio


Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team


Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

In Theo Epstein's end of season press conference on Friday he said that any coach Joe Maddon wants back will return in 2018.

Evidently, there's one coach Maddon didn't want back.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs have fired longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Bosio served as the Cubs pitching coach from 2012-17. He was the team's pitching coach under former managers' Dale Sveum (2012-13) and Rick Renteria (2014), and was retained when Maddon was hired as manager of the Cubs in 2015.

Bosio, who is one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, was instrumental in the career resurgence of Jake Arrieta who captured the Cy Young award in 2015, and the development of 27-year-old starter Kyle Hendricks (MLB's ERA leader in 2016).

One reason that could've led to Bosio's firing was the pitching staff's control issues during both the regular season and postseason, which Epstein mentioned during Friday's press conference. The Cubs issued the fifth-most walks (554) in the National League during the regular season and the highest total (53) during the postseason.

As the Cubs hit the market for a new pitching coach, Nightengale mentioned that one name that could be on the radar is former Tampa Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who parted ways with the organization following the 2017 season.

Hickey served as Maddon's pitching coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2014.