If Opening Day starters in baseball were measured in graciousness and niceties, then the Cubs might have the top two Opening Day candidates in the game.
“Hendricks is the man,” Marcus Stroman told beat writers in Arizona. “He’s the guy who should be handed the ball each and every Opening Day as long as he’s here.”
Thank you, very much, Kyle Hendricks told reporters in response. But by all means, after you.
“I told him he deserves it,” Hendricks said. “After the season he had last year, it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ “
After Stroman got stronger and more efficient through a four-inning performance Monday night against the Reds in his third spring training start — the night after Hendricks pitched three innings against the Royals in his third spring start — the heat began rising again on the fast-approaching decision over which one gets the April 7 opening assignment against the Brewers.
Except not really.
Hendricks, who is lined up for the opener, has been the obvious choice since camp opened, the incumbent ace with starts in the last two Cubs’ openers.
But even if Stroman gets the call over Hendricks, well, who cares? Neither of the rotation’s frontline right-handers seem to.
In fact, that’s literally the least important question facing this team, next to whether Jonathan Villar still chooses Don Omar’s El Duro for his walk-up song at Wrigley this year (and maybe not as important as that).
Hendricks, one of the most consistent starters in baseball the last eight seasons, and Stroman, who’s been even better in his last 65 starts (3.12 ERA), might be the most reliable answers to any of the Cubs’ questions with barely a week to go before the opener.
It’s how everything else gets answered that figures to tell the story of this Cubs season — whether they can find their way into the race for one of six NL playoff spots or whether enough questions persist into July that another selloff ensues at the trade deadline.
How much will lefty veterans Wade Miley and Drew Smyly provide for the pitching staff — and in particular the rotation — especially after Miley opened spring training behind other pitchers?
Will the Cubs have enough back-end rotation talent and health to actually fill out a five-man starting staff with bona fide starters who can provide five or more innings per start, or will they be forced to improvise throughout the season with piggyback alternatives and reliever parades two or three times a week?
What’s the adjustment period going to look like, and how long will it last, when it comes to $85 million free agent Seiya Suzuki, the former Japanese All-Star, Gold Glove right-fielder and batting champ?
How bad is shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ shoulder, and how long will the only everyday-caliber shortstop on the roster be hampered by the soreness that already threatens put him on the opening injured list for at least a short stretch?
Can newly signed outfielder Clint Frazier finally stay on the field — and far enough from outfield walls — to stay healthy and deliver for a full season on the hard-hitting promise his limited play in recent years suggested before and in between debilitating concussions?
Will streaky switch-hitter Ian Happ finally put together close to a full season that looks more like his final seven weeks (.323, 14 homers, 1.065) last year than his first 19 (.176, 11, .599)?
How much will veteran Jason Heyward play and contribute? In right field? In center?
Where will Nico Hoerner get most of his playing time and can he stay healthy after a rash of injuries last year?
Will Patrick Wisdom — who had two homers in a spring game Sunday — back up his rookie record 28 homers last season and cut down on what had been a record-pace of strikeouts?
Will Frank Schwindel, who just returned from a sore back, back up his back-to-back Rookie of the Month performances in the only two full months in the majors in his career?
And is there enough time between now and the opener to list the questions in an injury-weakened, completely rebuilt bullpen?
In other words, Stroman-Hendricks or Hendricks-Stroman?
“I’m just so excited to pitch alongside him,” Hendricks said. “We know that whoever [gets] the first game, we’re excited for just the whole road together.”
So, after you, sir.
And then you, sir.
And after that?
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