Mike Borzello

Kyle Hendricks is figuring out a way to win the battle against himself

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USA TODAY

Kyle Hendricks is figuring out a way to win the battle against himself

If you had to give one Cubs pitcher the ball in a must-win game in October, who would you choose: Kyle Hendricks or Yu Darvish?

Darvish spun another gem Tuesday night and has been on a historic run.

But Hendricks has been no slouch, posting a 2.63 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in eight second-half starts. He gets the ball Wednesday night in New York opposite Noah Syndergaard as the Cubs look to win their second straight road series (and first "true" road series since late-May). 

Part of Hendricks' success lately can be attributed to his increased curveball usage, a pitch Joe Maddon and the Cubs have wanted him to utilize more often in recent seasons.

On the whole, the 29-year-old right-hander is throwing his curve 8.9 percent of the time in 2019 and the off-speed pitch is coming in the slowest it ever has (71.6 mph). Both the velocity and the different movement adds one more thing for opposing hitters to think about and look at beyond his fastball and elite changeup.

"It's been huge for me just not being a two-pitch guy," Hendricks said after his last start in which he spun 7 shutout innings against the Giants. "When you fall into that pattern, there are a lot more foul balls, your pitch count gets up. So just to present another look and the command I've had with it this year has probably been the best so far. 

"I'm still trying to work on it and get better, but it's helped a lot."

Hendricks believes another key for him this season has been taking a page out of Jon Lester's book. Cubs fans have seen it often over Lester's tenure in Chicago: Even after a rough start to a game, the veteran southpaw is able to adjust on the fly and completely change the tune of the outing. 

Hendricks lauded Lester's lack of stubbornness and ability to throw a gameplan out the window quickly if it's not working.

Hendricks feels like he can be too stubborn sometimes, trying to stay with the pregame plan of attack even if it's not working or he's not feeling great with a certain pitch. But he's trying to improve in that area and it's something he's always talking about with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello.

"I think it's just experience and knowing yourself," Hendricks said. "I know that I do it and now these guys know it, too — Borzy and Tommy. I come in after the first or second inning and we look at each other, it's like we already know I'm doing it again or I'm trying to stick with the 2-seam fastball. It's like, 'OK, maybe let's try this,' incorporate the curveball or whatever needs to be done just to get through the start.

"It's not always going to go according to plan. [The hitters] make adjustments just as quick as we do, if not quicker. Being able to realize that and just know what you need to do quicker, that's what I try to learn from [Lester]. He does that better than anybody I've ever seen."

One thing that certainly hasn't gone according to plan this season: Hendricks is a totally different pitcher on the road than he is at home. 

Class is clearly in session for "The Professor" at Wrigley Field, but time away from the Friendly Confines has not been kind to Hendricks:

2019 Home

5-2
1.79 ERA
0.81 WHIP
.189 opponent AVG

2019 Road

4-7
4.76 ERA
1.41 WHIP
.288 opponent AVG

The good news for Hendricks and the Cubs is things have started to trend in the right direction away from home.

In his four second-half starts on the road, Hendricks has a 3.32 ERA and 1.25 WHIP and almost all of that damage was done in one really rough start in Cincinnati on Aug. 10 (7 runs, 12 hits, 3 homers in 2.2 innings).

Still, it's confounding Hendricks would have such drastic splits. This is the guy who started Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in Cleveland and Game 1 of the 2017 NLDS in Washington D.C.

So what's been the issue this season?

"On the road, it's just depth perception, what does it look like?" Maddon said. "It's probably very comfortable [at Wrigley] when he looks into the catcher. When you pitch on the road, it's variable ballparks. He's pitched in some pretty high-leverage moments [on the road]. I don't know the answer.

"Listen, there's so many things about this year that it's really hard to evaluate or explain, whether it's the road record, what we do [at home], our day record vs. night, blah blah blah. And guys like him are outstanding and looks exactly the same from the side on the road or at home. It's just one of those years, man."

Heard that.

It's almost September and the Cubs still can't explain their head-scratching struggles on the road over the last few months. Why would Hendricks' big home/road splits be any different?

Cubs name Tommy Hottovy pitching coach, announce other coaching staff additions

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AP

Cubs name Tommy Hottovy pitching coach, announce other coaching staff additions

The Cubs' 2019 coaching staff is rounding into form as we enter the Hot Stove season.

Thursday, the Cubs named Tommy Hottovy as their next pitching coach, replacing the departed Jim Hickey. In addition to Hottovy, the team named ex-Cub Chris Denorfia as quality assurance coach and Terrmel Sledge as assistant hitting coach. The team also added "assistant pitching coach" to catching coach Mike Borzello's title. 

The Cubs also announced that Brandon Hyde will return as bench coach in 2019. However, a report recently surfaced that said Hyde will interview for the Orioles' managerial vacancy, so his status is pending.

Hottovy, 37, is a former big-leaguer who pitched in parts of two MLB seasons with the Red Sox and Royals. In a combined 17 appearances from 2011-12, he posted a 4.05 ERA (6.75 ERA in eight games in 2011, 2.89 ERA in 2012). He also pitched with the Cubs in Spring Training 2014, though the team released him that April.

Hottovy has been a big part of the Cubs' pitching infrastructure the last few seasons, working closely with catching coordinator Mike Borzello and bullpen coach Lester Strode.

Theo Epstein confirmed other MLB teams inquired about Hottovy for vacant pitching coach roles and the Cubs also interviewed other potential candidates before landing on their in-house option.

"We talked to a number of other people," Epstein said. "We just felt like there was great risk going outside and also losing some of what we had initially. The more we looked at it, the more we kept coming back to trying to empower Tommy, trying to empower Borzy, trying to empower Lester and it became clear the right answer was to go all in with those guys."

Hickey stepping down as Cubs pitching coach meant that the Cubs would have both a new hitting and pitching coach for the second-straight season. Unlike 2018, though, the two new coaches are not new to the Cubs organization, which is also true for Denorfia and Sledge.

Hottovy became the Cubs' run-prevention coordinator in 2015, while new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce spent 2013-15 as a Cubs special assistant to the General Manager.

Denorfia is a former outfielder who played 10 MLB seasons, one with the Cubs. He hit .272 in his career and .269 with the Cubs in 2015; his walk-off home run in Sept. 2015 against the Royals was one of many for the Cubs that season. 

Sledge is also a former outfielder that played in parts of four MLB seasons from 2004-07. He hit .247 in 291 career games with the Expos/Nationals and Padres; he did not play for the Cubs, but he spent 2015 as hitting coach for Single-A Eugene before becoming the Dodgers' Double-A hitting coach, a position that he held from 2016-18. 

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Revisiting the whole idea of the Cubs as a dynasty

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AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: Revisiting the whole idea of the Cubs as a dynasty

Cubs coach Mike Borzello joins the Cubs Talk Podcast with Patrick Mooney, providing a fresh perspective on the Cubs as a “dynasty” given Borzello was a staffer on the New York Yankees in the late ‘90s as they won four World Series from 1996-2000. Borzello also compares Kris Bryant to Derek Jeter and takes a big-picture view on the 2017 Cubs season.

Elsewhere, Jeff Nelson, Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki sum up the first half and answer the burning questions ahead of the season’s second half, including what has to happen for the Cubs to shift gears completely and turn into a seller at the trade deadline.

Plus, how much of the Cubs’ first-half struggles can be attributed to just poor luck?

Check out the entire podcast here: