By not lighting up the radar gun, Kyle Hendricks has managed to stay under the radar.
But make no mistake: Hendricks is pitching as good as anyone on the Cubs right now.
It might be surprising to realize, what with reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and reigning National League Pitcher of the Month Jon Lester filling the top two slots in the Cubs’ rotation. But Arrieta’s less-than-perfection has been well documented of late, and Lester is fresh off getting rocked by the New York Mets.
Hendricks, meanwhile, is dominating opposing lineups and keeping the scoreboard clean.
He’s the Cubs’ fifth starter, but don’t tell Joe Maddon that.
“I don’t even consider him (a fifth starter). This guy’s just a good starting pitcher. It’s a wonderful, classic example of not having to throw 90-some miles an hour to be effective," Maddon said. "It’s not often you see that right-hander doing what he’s doing right now. So give him credit, he’s been spot on with his command. … You’ve got to like everything he’s doing.”
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Hendricks’ latest performance was another beauty. He lasted just 5 1/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, but he allowed only one unearned run, keeping them away from home plate while the Cubs’ offense bashed out 12 hits and scored 10 runs in the 10-4 victory.
Hendricks has brought his ERA down to 2.61 on the season, among the NL leaders and with only Arrieta’s 2.33 better on the Cubs' starting staff. For the ninth straight start, Hendricks allowed three or fewer earned runs, something he’s failed to do just twice this season in 16 starts. And in those two games he allowed just four.
“I just try and take every game individually. I’ve been on a little bit of a roll,” Hendricks said. “But I’ve been getting good work in in between starts, and when I’m out there it’s just been simple thoughts, make good pitches.
“Results obviously bring confidence. At the same time, you can’t live off results. So every time I go out there, I’m just trying to simplify as much as possible. That’s having one thought: Make good pitches. When I’m out there, even if I get a bad result, as long as it was a good pitch, that’s what I’m trying to focus on and move forward from there.”
Arrieta and Lester will both surely be on the NL All-Star team, but it’s worth noting that they aren’t the only two deserving Cubs hurlers. Up until his rough outing in New York, Jason Hammel probably fell into that category, too, and Hendricks certainly has shown he’s All-Star caliber — and maybe even pitching better than all those guys right now.
“It’s so fun to watch from the side because you see the reaction by the hitter when he makes a pitch that they take that they know is a strike but there’s not a whole lot they could’ve done with it,” Maddon said. “The late-swinging foul balls, the uncertainty of what the pitch was going to be. He’s doing a great job of mixing it up, varying speeds, hitting his spots. I don’t think he could pitch any better than he is right now.”
Hendricks has been in good stretches before. Last season, his ERA was down to 3.44 in mid-July before turning back up over the final two and a half months of the season. But there’s no doubt this season has been different, and Hendricks feels it, too.
“Last year I definitely didn’t know myself as well as I do right now,” Hendricks said. “Again, I kind of got out of my mechanics. When you know yourself a little better each time, you can get out of them but get back in them quicker. There have been times this year where I wasn’t sharp, but I was able to not let it waver too far. I was able to get right back in my slot, so that’s been big this year.”
Don’t expect to see Hendricks pitching for the NL next week in San Diego. Leave that to Arrieta and Lester. In Hendricks’ own words, he’s the fifth starter on this team, and he’s happy to let others demand attention while he continues to go under the radar.
“On this team, I definitely am (the fifth starter),” Hendricks said. “I’m the five guy, and that’s where I am right now, which is fine. I don’t really think about it like that.
“I just know when (Maddon) gives me the ball, I’m going out and doing whatever I can do — keeping the team in the game, making good pitches. That’s just my role.”