Cubs

Cubs counting on Kyle Hendricks in the stretch run

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Cubs counting on Kyle Hendricks in the stretch run

The Cubs have turned a corner since Kyle Schwarber was inserted into the No. 2 spot in the lineup on an everyday basis, but it's another Kyle who could be almost as important down the stretch.

The Cubs are counting on Kyle Hendricks to give them some quality outings in the season's final six weeks to lock up a playoff spot and make a push toward hosting the National League wild-card game (or even a run at the St. Louis Cardinals atop the NL Central).

[MORE: Kyle Schwarber’s whirlwind year pushes Cubs to another level]

After all, the Cubs aren't sitting with a 96-plus percent chance to make the postseason only because of their young, exciting position players. They also feature the fifth-best pitching staff in Major League Baseball by ERA.

"The young bats have gotten a lot of attention, but really, our run prevention is really why we have the record that we do," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "We really have done a great job of holding teams down.

"People talk about our pitching going forward and how we need to address pitching, but really, pitching is why we have the record that we do and hopefully it holds up as we go forward."

Hendricks heads to the mound Wednesday night in San Francisco as the Cubs try to extend their lead to 8.5 games over the reigning-champion Giants in the battle for the second wild-card spot.

The 25-year-old righty has been going through a rough stretch of late, watching his ERA rise above 4.00 for the first time since the calendar flipped to July.

Hendricks had a 22 1/3 scoreless-inning streak running before the All-Star Break, but he has recorded just one quality start in seven chances in the second half (though the Cubs are 5-2 in those starts).

After getting battered around by the White Sox on Aug. 14 (eight hits, five runs, three walks in 3.1 innings), Hendricks went back to his roots in an effort to find answers, looking at game tape of his Double-A starts.

[RELATED - Bring it on: Cubs embracing the playoff pressure]

He's insistent he's found the problem, working on getting his mechanics back on track with his balance and the angle of his arm/hand as he pushes through each pitch.

"Coming in and seeing that Double-A stuff, I think it's a turning point," Hendricks said. "I brought [Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio] in. He completely agreed and said it looks completely different.

"Now I can have that other set of eyes as far as me feeling it and working together to get through these bullpens and try to get it back together."

Hendricks said he just hasn't had that consistent "feel" of his mechanics all season, finding it for times and then losing it again. He attributed his scoreless streak in June and July to a product of luck as much as anything.

Hendricks - whose dad is a golf pro - compared his pitching motion to a golf swing.

"If you have a terrible back swing, how are you gonna generate any power coming down on the ball?" he said. "That's kinda where I [was] at. Everything that's happening on the backside, once I get to the point of releasing the ball, I've lost all my power, all my direction. I just kinda have to guide my hands.

"It wasn't right. And you don't quite know what to do to get it back. And not having that confidence going out, that screws you up mentally. That's why I was trying to fix the mental problems early in the year.

"Clearly, it's mechanical now and it's kind of a relief that we've figured it out."

The results haven't come immediately (he gave up three runs on seven hits in five innings last time out against the Braves), but Hendricks said he believes it can be a relatively quick turnaround on implementing these mechanical changes in game action and he was "fired up" to get things back on track.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

To be clear, Hendricks is far from a disappointment this season, even with his year-long mechanical issues. Any team in the playoff hunt would be pretty happy with a 6-5 record, 4.03 ERA and 1.22 WHIP from their No. 4 starter. FanGraphs rates Hendricks as a 2.4 WAR player in 136.1 innings.

The Cubs know what they have in Hendricks, especially because they understand they need production out of more than just Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation.

"I don't think he gets talked about enough," Hoyer said. "You look up and he's been really good for us. You know what you're gonna get out of him on a game-to-game basis.

"He throws strikes, he changes speeds, you know he's exceptionally well-prepared for each game. I think everyone focuses on [Lester and Arrieta], but Hendricks and [Jason] Hammel have been a huge factor for us."

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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