There’s really no way to sugarcoat it, Kyle Hendricks had looked pretty poopy over his first three starts of the season. Which explains why his sinker moved more like a stinker, giving him very little difference between fastballs and leaving virtually no room for the changeup to be established as an out pitch.
But when he toed the rubber Friday, it was like a whole different pitcher had emerged. Less like Alien and more like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, the changeup artist came out twirling and spinning as well as he ever has. His pitches were dodging, dipping, ducking, diving, and dodging bats in vintage fashion as he rang up 11 strikeouts over seven innings.
Heading into the game, however, many had been wondering whether the Cubs might want to consider using an “opener” for Hendricks. He’s had issues settling into a groove in the past and was having a difficult time getting his movement and location right, so there’s merit to the idea of giving him a little extra runway.
But as Jed Hoyer explained to 670 The Score earlier in the week, it was really just a matter of letting the cerebral starter work through some things with his delivery.
“One thing with Kyle, he’s really…I don’t want to say ‘mechanical,’” Hoyer said. “But when he gets off of his mechanics, sometimes it takes him a little bit of time to figure out exactly what’s going on and to correct it. And usually once he corrects it, he keeps that correction for months and months and can have these dominant stretches that we’ve seen from him.”
If Friday’s results are any indication, it apparently took less than a week to figure things out. A humble Hendricks didn’t issue any proclamations about any permanent changes or being “fixed,” but was predictably pragmatic in describing the performance.
“You can’t rush the process,” Hendricks said after rattling the D-backs. “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.”
Even if his future with the Cubs hadn’t been secured at the end of spring training, this isn’t a guy who would be looking at each individual start as some sort of treatise on his entire season. He’s viewing the campaign in aggregate and making little adjustments along the way, which may be why exceeding his season strikeout total (10) in a single outing surprised even him.
“I didn’t think it was gonna come this quick,” Hendricks [that’s what she] said. “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.”
If he gets on a roll anything like his changeup displayed, hoo boy. Hendricks was also able to spot his fastballs to get called strikes, many of which were followed by a stoic K-strut as another another batter stalked sullenly back to the dugout. It wasn’t a perfect outing, though, and you can bet the righty will be looking for ways to improve.
Like maybe not skipping a changeup past his catcher for his first wild pitch in 6,662 pitches.
“I had no clue when I was out there. Literally no clue,” Hendricks said of the mistake with a tone that closely approximated humor. “I just said, ‘Oh, bad pitch. On to the next one.’ But then somebody told me when I came in here. I got a good laugh about it.”
As much as I want to believe him, it’s easy to imagine that Hendricks absolutely keeps one of those OSHA-sponsored “Days Since Last Accident” signs in his locker that he’d just reset to 0 before the scrum descended upon him. Of course, the one just below it that says “Days Since Last ‘Holy S***!’ Changeup” has also been reset.
And if the latter countdown continues to get no higher than 5 throughout the season, the batter’s box will remain a hazardous workplace for opposing hitters.