Cubs

Cubs: Keeping it simple has Kyle Hendricks in 'really nice rhythm'

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Cubs: Keeping it simple has Kyle Hendricks in 'really nice rhythm'

With the trade deadline just a few weeks away, the Cubs admit they have to address their starting pitching depth.

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But Kyle Hendricks is proving he's no longer a question mark in the Cubs' rotation.

The 25-year-old righty hasn't allowed a run in his last 22.1 innings to stabilize a Cubs starting staff that has seen bouts of inconsistency from Jon Lester at the top, a lack of execution from Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada and the No. 5 spot and now a Jason Hammel hamstring injury.

"It starts with command," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Command of all his pitches, command of his fastball, really locating well and then off that, his changeup has been very good.

"He's just in such a really nice rhythm right now. He relies on location a lot. And that's why you've seen some really outstanding outings."

Hendricks shut out the White Sox for seven innings Friday, "blowing up" bats as he induced a lot of weak contact - only two balls were hit to the outfield besides the five hits he allowed.

[MORE - Cubs offense absent in 'non-fortuitous' Crosstown opener]

Maddon opted to remove Hendricks from the game after only 90 pitches, saying he felt the second-year starter had reached his limit.

With the outing, Hendricks lowered his season ERA to 3.55 and WHIP to 1.12, numbers that are right there with Lester (3.48 ERA, 1.28 WHIP).

Hendricks is a cerebral pitcher, a Dartmouth graduate with a thirst for scouting reports, absorbing as much information as he can before each start.

But when he's on the mound, keeping it simple has been his key to success lately.

"I think that mindset [has helped] - going one pitch at a time and just making good pitches," Hendricks said. "Trying not to do too much, just simplifying everything."

Hendricks impressed during his rookie campaign last year, going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 13 starts.

Even despite his recent hot streak, Hendricks says he still feels like he was sharper at points last year and has room to grow this season.

"I still don't feel 100 percent sharp, but as far as my mentality right now, I think it's maybe as good as it's ever been since I've been up [in the majors]," he said.

"Just that simple mentality, I've really stuck to it and done a good job with it. [Now I'll] try and go into the [All-Star] break and keep it going when we come back."

Hendricks' hot hand has come in the midst of a record-setting stretch for Cubs pitching.

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Cubs starters have allowed two or fewer runs in 11 straight games, the first time that has happened in franchise history since at least 1914. Hendricks and Co. have posted a 1.14 ERA (9 ER in 68.1 IP) in that stretch.

"Our whole staff is pretty much rolling pretty good right now," Anthony Rizzo said.

"We got Jonny and Jake [Arrieta] going the next two games. I know we [face Chris] Sale tomorrow, but we're pretty happy with what we got right now."

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

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USA TODAY

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

The farm system doesn't have the big names it once did, as the majority of the top prospects have graduated to the Major League roster, but that doesn't mean the minor league clubs aren't having fun. 

Take 29-year-old Ryan Court, a minor league infielder who has bounced around from Arizona and Boston's systems and found a home this year with the Cubs triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, IA. Court has had a solid season in Iowa, slashing .272/.347/.410 in 74 games, but might have had his finest game as I-Cub Friday night against the New Orleans Baby Cakes. 

Court came up in the 8th inning last night needing just a triple to hit for the cycle, but his club was on the verge of taking the lead in the after scoring three runs prior to his at-bat.

With Bote on 1st, the game tied at 8 runs apiece, Court placed a ball in front of the right fielder who overplayed the ball and allowed Bote to score from first and Court to scamper to third to complete the cycle. 

The I-Cubs would tack on another run to polish off a 5-run 8th inning and take home the win in a 10-8 victory over the Baby Cakes, and according to Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch, it was the first time in two decades an Iowa player has hit for the cycle. 

It's unlikely Ryan Court will make his way to the big leagues with the Cubs already carrying plenty of infielders, but for one night he played the hero and got his team the win, finishing the night 4-5 with 2 RBI, 4 runs scored and one massive smile on his face.