After Kyle Hendricks’ best start in almost three weeks, one reporter asked Cubs manager David Ross if the right-hander is his 2022 Opening Day starter.
“That’s a good one,” said Ross with a chuckle after Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Pirates.
All jokes aside, Hendricks looked the part in his final start of the season — which is the most encouraging pitching news the Cubs have gotten in a long time.
Hendricks tossed five-plus innings against Pittsburgh, allowing five hits and two runs. He struck out five and got seven outs on groundballs, throwing 78 pitches, to conclude an up and down individual 2021 campaign.
Hendricks started off slow with the worst April of his career before an impressive stretch from mid-May to early August. He went 11-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 16 starts, including 14 quality starts.
In his ensuing seven starts, he posted a 9.08 ERA, finishing the season with career highs in ERA (4.77) and home runs allowed (31).
“Clearly disappointing overall,” Hendricks said of his season. “There was a good stretch there for a minute, but everything from the start just wasn't up to par for me.
“I learned a lot. Every year you learn a lot about yourself and I'm just excited to disconnect for a little bit, get away, but then get back after it in the offseason.”
The Cubs discussed limiting Hendricks’ workload down the stretch amid the recent rough patch. Workloads for all pitchers are under close watch this season after the shortened 60-game 2020 campaign.
Hendricks, who threw the third-most innings in 2020, is again among the MLB leaders.
He wanted to finish strong and work on things heading into the winter. His final two outings were more characteristic of the consistent starter he’s been for the Cubs throughout his career.
“I feel a lot better about it with my last two,” Hendricks said. “I accomplished the few things that I set out trying to do to take in the offseason.
"I’m glad to go in the offseason with a couple positives for sure.”
Hendricks provided his typical durability coming off the strange 2020 season. He made 32 starts (tied for his second-most in a season) and threw 181 innings (third-most).
He won 14 games — or about 20 percent of the Cubs’ current 68 wins.
“This guy is probably the easiest guy I'm ever going to manage as far as he just comes in, gets his work every single day and goes out there and competes when it's his day,” Ross said.
“Takes the ball no matter how he’s feeling and goes out there and gives you a really good chance to win.”
Hendricks said he’ll keep up with what the Cubs do this offseason (they’ll be active) but his primary focus is on getting ready for 2022.
He’s currently the only guy guaranteed to be in the rotation next season — likely making his third straight Opening Day start — as the Cubs count on him to lead their starting staff again.
“He’s set a standard here,” Ross said, “or continuing a standard that’s kind of set since some of those guys from the championship club have come in here and held the starting rotation to a high standard.
“He’s still carrying that on for us. It's really nice from my seat to have a guy like that, who is so professional in the way he goes about everything and gives us a chance to win.
“As impressive as it is to watch every five days, I may be a little spoiled and come to expect it a little bit.”