Cubs

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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Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki check in from Wrigley Field after the Cubs split the first leg of the Crosstown Classic with the White Sox.

Kelly and Tony discuss the breaking news of top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay's promotion to the big leagues and what his role could be with the Cubs (2:15), and assess where the Cubs stand as they continue their long homestand, including the recent offensive downturn and Yu Darvish taking a step forward (7:30).

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

On a mid-June night that felt more like the first week of April, the Cubs and White Sox combined for 2,029 feet of homers. 

As Leury Garcia hit Jon Lester's first pitch of the game 429 feet Wednesday evening, the reported temperature was in the mid 50s with winds blowing in from left field at 7 mph. That's not as chilly or windy as some of the games the Cubs have played this season, but it's still certainly not ideal hitting conditions at Wrigley Field.

Yet five home runs peppered the left and center field bleachers in the Cubs' 7-3 victory and prompted veteran manager Joe Maddon to bemuse about the way the ball is jumping around baseball today.

"Difficult conditions, but again — wind blowing in at a gale, it seemed, balls flying out easily," Maddon said after the game. "The home run that [James] McCann hit, my god, that just took off. You could actually see it from the field. You watch the flags [blowing in], it gets there, then all of a sudden it took off like a UFO. It stood still, then it took off. The first home run of the game, the first pitch, I mean my god, that ball went far. 

"I don't know what I'm witnessing. The way the ball is coming off the bat right now, it's extraterrestrial. It's like an ET kind of a thing going on out there. It's crazy. This is my fifth year here and I know what I've seen. Whenever the wind is blowing in like that, you don't see that. You don't see that."

Lester worked around those two homers from Garcia and McCann to pick up his 6th win, thanks in large part to the power supplied from his own teammates. Catcher Willson Contreras mashed his 14th and 15th homers of the season (after hitting only 10 all of last year) and David Bote smashed his 9th. 

Overall this season, the Cubs have been on an insane home run barrage, on pace to blow past the franchise mark for longballs in a year. Contreras reaching the 15-homer plateau puts five Cubs in that club this season. No other MLB team has more than three players who have reached that mark.

"I just know the ball's leaving," Maddon said. "I don't know if it's another year of maturity, but it's not just us. It's industry-wide. So it's hard to just say that we're the outlier with all this going on. I still want to see the better approach with runners in scoring position." 

Six weeks ago, Lester brought up the juiced baseball discussion after a start against the Marlins, saying he and other pitchers would like to know if MLB is juicing the baseballs. The league hasn't openly stated anything is different with the baseballs, though home runs are up at an astronomical rate across the board — in both the majors and Triple-A. And we haven't even gotten into the summer weather yet, when the ball really starts flying on warm evenings.

When asked for his thoughts on the baseballs Wednesday night, Lester shrugged it off.

"No comment," he said. "We can sit here and talk until we're blue in the face about the ball. It is what it is. Every pitcher in the big leagues has to pitch with it. You can comment on it all you want, but it just sounds like an excuse. I don't make excuses. Gotta make better pitches."