Cubs

Cubs: Kyle Hendricks welcomes pressure of pitching in 'must-win' game

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Cubs: Kyle Hendricks welcomes pressure of pitching in 'must-win' game

With the Cubs' season hanging in the balance, the organization will turn to Kyle Hendricks to be the stopper.

The New York Mets just worked over Cubs aces Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in the first two games of the National League Championship Series, and the Cubs can't afford to lose another game and put themselves in a deeper hole.

But Hendricks — who has all of one postseason appearance in his brief MLB career — is welcoming the pressure as he gets the ball in Game 3 of the NLCS on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

"It's awesome, man," Hendricks said after the Cubs' workout at Wrigley Field on Monday. "I'm excited. This is where we want to be. We've got to get this win.

"I mean, yeah, there's pressure. It's the playoffs. There's always going to be some pressure, but you've got to let the pleasure exceed that. We've heard Joe (Maddon) say it a lot.

"I'm just going to go out and try to have fun. This is why you play the game. This is why you want the ball. So pressure, in a way, is sometimes a good thing."

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta hits the wall as Mets put Cubs in 0-2 NLCS hole]

Hendricks also got the ball for another "must-win" situation in Game 2 of the NLDS in St. Louis earlier this month. The Cardinals had just beaten Lester in the series opener, and Arrieta was unavailable after throwing a complete game in the wild-card one-game playoff, so Hendricks was called upon to stop the bleeding and keep the Cubs from going down 0-2 in a five-game series.

Hendricks didn't finish the fifth inning or collect the win, but the Cubs got the desired result anyways and the 25-year-old right-hander helped jumpstart the offense with a squeeze bunt and then attacked the zone and threw strikes with his team sporting a five-run lead.

Hendricks gave up three runs — all on solo homers — in 4 2/3 innings, striking out seven in a 6-3 Cubs win.

"The last game, I thought he threw the ball really well," Maddon said. "Ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth, but he's the kind of guy that can put the ball on the ground. We've got to catch it."

[SHOP CUBS: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

The Cubs have plenty of faith in Hendricks to help tilt the momentum in their favor in Game 3, even going up against Mets ace Jacob deGrom.

"Kyle works fast; he throws strikes," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "There's a lot of confidence. Actually, when Kansas City came here (in late September), I was talking to (Royals catcher) Sal Perez, and he was saying Kyle is one of the best guys they saw all year and some of the nastiest stuff because it all looks the same.

"We have extreme confidence in Kyle. ... We expect good things from Kyle. I personally have a lot of confidence in him."

After going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts as a rookie in 2014, Hendricks had an inconsistent season in 2015. He showed flashes of that rookie form but struggled with his mechanics at various points.

He feels like he's in the right groove now, as evidenced by three straight quality starts to close out the regular season and a solid outing in the NLDS.

"It's been a crazy year for me in particular," Hendricks said. "A lot of ups and downs. Had to work real hard with (Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio), made some mechanical adjustments.

"I've felt really good in my last four, five, six starts here. Finally back in my lane. Hopefully I can just keep it going tomorrow, find my lane, get the ball down and just stay in line."

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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