PHOENIX, Ariz. - If Kyle Hendricks is healthy, it would be surprising to see anybody else beat him out for the fifth starter spot when the Cubs break camp to start the 2016 regular season.
The Cubs have four pitchers in their projected bullpen - Adam Warren, Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill - with track records as starters, but entering spring, it seemed as if it was Hendricks' job to lose.
Joe Maddon has insisted there are no final decisions made on the rotation beyond Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey, but also admitted the incumbents (Jason Hammel and Hendricks) have a leg up on the rest of the competition.
Hendricks struck out four and gave up a run in two innings Thursday in the Cubs' 2-1 loss in their Cactus League opener, and said he's just trying to block out all the noise.
"I'm pretty good at focusing on what I gotta do," Hendricks said. "It's just coming in every day and not really looking around, just keeping your head down and working hard.
"I know I have a lot to work on mechanically, but also getting my arm strength up for the first game. There's a lot to do to focus on yourself, for sure, and not think about all that."
Maddon said he wanted to see Hendricks out in some game action to watch how the 26-year-old right-hander handled his mechanical adjustments and tempo in game. The Cubs want Hendricks to slow things down a bit and make sure he gets into a rhythm.
After a stellar rookie campaign (7-2, 2.46 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), Hendricks regressed a bit in 2015 (8-7, 3.95 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). But his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was almost identical to 2014 (3.36 compared to 3.32) and he also saw his strikeouts rise significantly (from 5.3 K/9 to 8.4).
Hendricks made 32 starts last season and it's safe to say any team in baseball would take those numbers from their fifth starter.
Hendricks, however, feels like he has room to grow entering his second full big-league season.
"I wasn't too happy with last year," he said. "I expected a lot better - more innings, better performance, honestly, going deeper into games. Just being better for my team.
"I think there's a lot more."
Hendricks got lit up by the Chicago White Sox in mid-August last season (eight hits, three walks, five runs in 3.1 innings), but feels like he turned a corner when he realized some mechanical issues on video after that outing.
He posted a 3.88 ERA in nine starts from that point on, including 12 straight shutout innings to close out the regular season.
"I felt good at how I ended," Hendricks said. "I kinda salvaged at the end there and finished strong, but I wanna be that guy that is consistent every time out and the team can know what to expect from me every time out.
"I wasn't that all last year, so I'm looking to have consistency from start to finish."
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Hendricks said he has different "cues" in his mechanics now and feels like he has a better understanding of how to fix any issues in-game. He also listens to his catchers and Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, who know what to look for now.
Hendricks - a Dartmouth graduate - admitted he can think too much at times on the mound and is trying to just see the glove and throw the ball.
With all the competition around him in Cubs camp this spring and his inconsistency last year, does Hendricks feel like he has something to prove?
"Possibly," he said. "I'm not really thinking about it. I'm just trying to go out there and make good pitches and really simplify as much as I can.
"If you start thinking too much, you can get in your own head."