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Scott Boras sees all that young talent coming together for Cubs

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Scott Boras sees all that young talent coming together for Cubs

SAN DIEGO — For all the personal shots at the Ricketts family and the questions about when the Cubs would act like a big-market team again, Scott Boras always understood the turnaround would be good for business.

“I didn’t say we wouldn’t want to be a part of it,” Boras said with a laugh. “I’d love to go to the World Series and have like seven guys playing on the team.”

The game’s most powerful agent must have enjoyed Thursday night’s 3-0 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, watching Kris Bryant and Addison Russell blast two home runs and show why his clients had been two of the top three prospects on Baseball America’s rankings.

All this young talent came together as Kyle Hendricks put the finishing touches on a complete-game shutout that took only two hours and eight minutes. Hendricks, who grew up in Southern California, worked fast in front of about 25 friends and family members, getting back the feel for what made him so successful during last year’s breakout rookie campaign.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs looking at Rafael Soriano as possible bullpen upgrade]

Hendricks got a beer shower and a dance party in the clubhouse — or at least “something like that” — after putting up seven strikeouts against zero walks to notch his first win this season.

“I’m not going to say I needed it, but I kind of did need it,” said Hendricks (1-1, 4.14 ERA). “Not winning a game in a month and a half can drive a guy nuts.”

Theo Epstein’s front office acquired Hendricks in the 2012 Ryan Dempster trade with the Texas Rangers, collecting as many long-term assets as possible while dealing with some of the franchise’s financial limitations that have so frustrated Boras.

“It’s a lot of fun when all these young guys start performing,” Hendricks said. “We have such good veteran presences here to make us feel comfortable and just let us go out and play our game.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hope bullpen is finally coming together]

Bryant remembered coming here as a University of San Diego student, sitting in the cheap seats high above right field before getting drafted No. 2 overall in 2013 and getting a $6.7 million signing bonus.

Bryant set the tone in the first inning by crushing a curveball from Cuban right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne. It had an exit velocity of 101.5 mph leaving the bat, traveling 417 feet over the center-field fence for a two-run homer.

“I definitely think we’re going in the right direction,” Bryant said. “It’s important for us to just focus on the next game, but it’s hard not to look into the future. We’re playing pretty well right now. Us young guys are stepping up, but there’s going to be times where we’re not doing it, and the older guys will step up. We got a pretty good group here.

“There’s better days to come and we’re all excited for that.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs could shake things up with Javier Baez and Kris Bryant]

Bryant has five homers, 27 RBIs, 24 walks and an .894 OPS through his first 32 games in The Show. But even Boras didn’t seem to want to revive the service-time debate from spring training or get into told-you-so trash talk.

Not when Russell — the headliner in last summer’s Jeff Samardzija deal with the Oakland A’s — is the second-youngest player in the National League at 21 years and 118 days old.

“This organization and their people (have been great) for both Kris and Addison,” Boras said. “You got to remember they’ve done a great job, because these guys have dramatically improved since they’ve been in this organization. Addison was traded here a year ago, and he has jumped up. It’s really a credit to all those coaches and the development staff of the Cubs. We’re always happy the Cubs are drafting our players.”

Boras — who once played for the Cubs in their minor-league system and practiced law in Chicago — has joked that Joe Maddon is the only guy he knows who can go to an RV park and make $25 million. The Cubs now have the right manager to lead this team.

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

“Joe Maddon’s a talent,” Boras said. “He does a great job of giving these guys a psychological approach.

“He’s very, very good at giving players a focus at a variety of levels of their careers. And I think that has a lot to do with why they’re performing so well here.”

The Cubs left San Diego with a 23-17 record, traveling to Phoenix for a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend. With Memorial Day approaching, if the future isn’t now, it also doesn’t have to be three years from now.

“We have a lot to offer this team,” Russell said. “We’re talented guys. Just keep getting better. That’s the goal each day.”

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It was only a matter of time before Kyle Hendricks figured it all out. 

It appears Friday was that day. 

The 29-year-old right-hander was off to a slow start to the season, surrendering 24 hits and 8 earned runs in 13.1 innings across his first three starts, good for a 5.40 ERA and 2.18 WHIP. 

Things looked a little better last time out — only 2 earned runs allowed on 6 hits in 5 innings last Saturday against the Angels — but even after that start, Hendricks admitted he still feels like he's fighting himself and searching for his fastball command.

"You can't rush it," he said after that outing. "You can't rush the process. But it definitely gets frustrating. I need to do a better job and give the team a better chance to win when I'm out there regardless. And set a better tone — be more aggressive with my fastball and set a better tone for the game. You want it to come quick, but at least I'm seeing something, so I just gotta stick with what I'm doing."

Whatever he was seeing with his mechanics came to pass in Friday afternoon's 5-1 Cubs win, as he completely baffled the Diamondbacks in a brilliant performance — 7 shutout innings, permitting only 3 singles while striking out 11. It was his first double-digit strikeout game since he whiffed 12 Cardinals on Aug. 13, 2016 en route to his ERA title that season.

"Yeah, like I said, you kinda always want it to come, but I didn't think it was gonna come this quick," Hendricks admitted after Friday's game. "So to go out and make that many good pitches, yeah it helps the confidence a lot. It solidifies the things we've been working on, so I just told the guys this was just one good day, so tomorrow, gotta get right back at it with another good work day and hopefully get on a roll here."

It was also the Cubs' third straight appearance from a starting pitcher of 7 shutout innings, after Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana turned the trick in the final two games in Miami earlier in the week.

The one pitch Hendricks felt good about last time out — his changeup — was his bread and butter Friday, too. He threw it 30 times out of his 100 pitches and induced 8 swings and misses.

"That was kinda classic Kyle," Joe Maddon said. "Great changeup, again. A lot of called strikes, pitching on the edges. ... That first inning or so, still seeking and then once he found it, he got into a nice groove."

Part of the success of the changeup was due to Hendricks' command with his fastball, which he apparently figured out — for one start, at least. He threw 66 percent of his pitches for strikes throughout the game and 35 of his 56 fastballs went for strikes. 

"From the get-go, I just felt more comfortable in my mechanics, so it just freed everything up," Hendricks said. "From there, I just used my fastball a lot better — kinda like what I was talking about. Fastball command and just establishing it early. Everything else worked off that and it just had good action today. Kept it down, made a lot of good pitches, so it worked out."

Hendricks even saw 17 pitches at the plate despite an 0-for-4 performance, as the Cubs offense put 19 runners on base throughout the course of the afternoon.

However, his day was not without negatives. He took a 110 mph liner off the left leg in the seventh inning, but stayed in the game and finished off the last two hitters he faced.

He also snapped his fascinating personal streak, as he threw his first wild pitch since Sept. 5, 2016 — a span of 6,662 pitches:

"I had no idea; I came in the clubhouse and someone brought that to my attention," Hendricks said, laughing. "Time to start a new streak."

In all, Hendricks picked up his first win of 2019 and lowered his season ERA to 3.54 and WHIP to 1.67 with his performance. He also helped pitch his team back to the .500 level (9-9) for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

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Joe Maddon weighs in on the bat-flip debate

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon weighs in on the bat-flip debate

You won't be finding Joe Maddon among Tim Anderson's defenders, but he's also not using this week's incident as a teaching moment for his players.

Maddon is still under the belief that it's better not to create a list of rules in the clubhouse to govern the players, but he also isn't into the whole show of celebration, of which bat-flips are at the forefront.

When Anderson flipped his bat on a home run Wednesday against the Royals, Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller responded by drilling Anderson the next time up. That resulted in a benches — and bullpens — clearing incident and then on Friday afternoon, both Anderson and Keller were hit with suspensions (Anderson was suspended for using a racial slur in his response to Keller). 

This is just the latest — and maybe one of the most charged — examples of the whole bat-flip/unwritten rules ordeal. Baseball's long tradition of punishing players for "showing up" a pitcher is alive and strong, and that's true even in the younger generation (Keller is only 23 years old). 

At 65, Maddon has been in the game of baseball since decades before Keller was even born, but he subscribes to a similar line of thinking as the Royals right-hander.

"I know my first year [with Cubs in 2015], I got upset at Junior Lake down in Miami [for flipping his bat]," Maddon said. "At that time, my being upset was about trying to flip the culture here — being more professional-looking and act like you're gonna do it again. That was my whole point about that.

"For me, I would prefer our guys didn't do that. I would prefer that the younger group right now doesn't need to see demonstrations like that in order to feel like they can watch baseball or that baseball is more interesting because somebody bat-flips really well and I kinda dig it and if I watch, I might see a bat-flip. 

"I would prefer kids watch baseball because it's a very interesting game, it's intellectually stimulating and when it's played properly, it's never too long. I prefer kids learn that method as opposed to become enamored with our game based on histrionics. I really would prefer that, but it seems to be that we are catering to that a bit.

"...When somebody choose to [bat-flip] and somebody gets hit in the butt because of it, that's what you're looking at. Regardless if you're old or new school, if you're a pitcher, I think you're gonna be offended by that. Act like you're gonna do it again would be the method that I would prefer with our guys. I want to believe we're not gonna do that, but it may happen here, too. And then we're just gonna have to wait and see how the other team reacts."

Though Maddon is not a fan of bat-flips and excessive celebration for big moments, he has not coached his players into avoiding such moments. 

That's why you still see Javy Baez out there being his typical flashy self and David Bote with an epic bat-flip on his walk-off grand slam (though that was obviously a much bigger moment than a run-of-the-mill fourth-inning homer) and Pedro Strop nearly dislocating his shoulder with some aggressive fist-pumps after nailing down a big out late in games.

But if anything does get out of line, Maddon prefers the policing comes from the players within the Cubs clubhouse or from the other team. Think back to last year when Baez tossed his bat in frustration after a pop-out against the Pirates at Wrigley Field and Strop pulled Baez aside to let him know "we don't do that here."

"I think the tried-and-true method of policing the group — whether it's the team policing itself or the industry and players doing the same thing," Maddon said. "I'd be curious to see if [Anderson] ever does that again, based on the result the other day." 

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