Spring training results don’t matter. That said, it’s hard to avoid getting down when Jon Lester fails to record a fourth out before allowing a fifth run. So if the bad taste from Tuesday’s start lingered any longer for you than it did for Lester himself, Kyle Hendricks’ effort Wednesday was a welcome palate cleanser.
It was a perfect study in contrasts, since Lester is learning to live with the kind of lower velocity Hendricks could only dream of reaching. Seriously, Hendricks couldn’t even win his own jersey at one of those fastball booths they have on carnival midways. Not that he’d need to, since Ryan O’Hearn is contractually obligated to buy one for him after getting the gas face on this heater.
Kyle Hendricks, Overpowering 82mph Front Door Two Seamer. ? pic.twitter.com/ULYUbJwzRV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 26, 2020
Hendricks was all smiles after the game, chuckling as he spoke to the media scrum eager to learn the secrets of his early success.
“Yeah, we are kinda ready,” Hendricks said. “It’s fun just getting back out there, getting back in the rhythm of the game and, yeah, it starts making you think about when the season really starts. But it was just good to get my work in. Felt pretty good overall, maybe got a little quick on some, especially the last hitter or two of the second inning there.”
Did anyone else hear El DeBarge when Hendricks was talking there? No, just me? With all due apologies to any of you who have been impacted by that earworm, the idea of having at least one of their top two starters on point this early is something of a relief. Not that anyone should really be worried about Lester yet, especially since he’s their No. 3 at best right now, but Hendricks looking like himself while employing a relatively standard pitch mix was great to see.
“We were trying to get close to 30-35 and I think I ended about 33, so pitch count was perfect and just kinda wanted to throw everything and see how it all was looking,” Hendricks explained. “First time out, just get into the rhythm of the game, make sure my timing was was under control with all that, so it was really, really good for the most part.”
Now, before you go getting too high on two innings of work, you should understand that fear may well have been a motivating factor. After all, John Lackey was lurking around the facility all day Wednesday. David Ross had supplied the former pitcher with a full uniform in order to make him as inconspicuous as possible as he patrolled the Sloan Park grounds.
“I saw him this morning and then in the weight room for a little bit,” Hendricks said with a smile born of relief. “You know, I was doing my thing getting ready, but I did get to hang out with him for a minute.”
That’s about 59 seconds longer than I’d be able to hang out with Lackey, though Hendricks may have been paralyzed by the sheer terror of the encounter. Okay, enough with the jokes. For all crap a lot of us have given the big righty over the years, Lackey does seem to be really well-liked among his former teammates and that feeling is obviously mutual.
Anyway, back to Hendricks, who has established a solid early foundation and now needs to build on it as he stretches out for the season. He’s had a little trouble early in games and with minor injuries that throw off his mechanics in the past, but the Cubs really need him to provide consistency at the top of the rotation. With Lester aging out of his traditional workhorse role, other starters have to pick up the slack.
I’ve got faith in Hendricks to be able to do just that, even if it means having Lackey coming around every five days.