Last night, Kyle Hendricks pitched his best game of the season, going six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and two walks, while striking out three. It was a heartening outing after three rough ones to begin his Cy-Young-Finalist-follow-up campaign.
Setting aside the results, though, how did Hendricks look? How are we feeling going forward?
The answer to both of those questions, from my view, is something between “decent” and “pretty good.”
As we checked in yesterday on Kyle Hendricks in advance of his start last night, it was looking increasingly like there was an intermingling of causes and effects that led to a decline in velocity in the early going, as well as a loss of command (mechanical issues cost some command and velocity, which caused more between-start throwing to correct, which caused arm weakness, which impacted velocity, and so on). In turn, the velocity and command issues were leading to much more hard contact, which had seen Hendricks done in (together with the increased walks) for three early-season starts.
So, now knowing these things, how did he look last night? Better! After the first two innings, which looked quite a bit like the first three starts, Hendricks’ fastball velocity crept back up to the 87-88mph range we’re used to seeing, and he also was more consistently keeping the ball down.
On the night, Hendricks averaged 86.5mph on his sinker and 87.1mph on his four-seamer. In April of last year, those numbers were at 87.4 and 87.8, respectively. So we’re gettin’ somewhere.
Hendricks netted only four whiffs on the night (when things were really on for him last year, he was typically more in the 10 to 12 range), but at least three of them came against the changeup, which is what he needs to be at his most successful. Moreover, the four balls put in play on the changeup all resulted in outs.
If nothing else, the start had to be a confidence-booster for Hendricks. And, if something more, it may have been a mechanical building block, where he started to feel like something closer to normal, which he could then carry forward into his between-start throwing sessions, and ultimately, his next start.
Sure enough, Hendricks referenced his mechanics “clicking” the second time through the order, which certainly squares with what we were seeing (Cubs.com, ESPN). “The sensation was a little different for sure with my lower body. I could kind of see the glove a little more and I had better command of my fastball.” That’s the kind of thing that you really want to hear from Hendricks, as he gets that feel back for whatever the tiny, minute mechanical differences were that were throwing him off.
It was not a dominating, 2016-era Hendricks start, but it was a dramatic improvement from where he’s been. For today, I am encouraged.