When I got to class yesterday and saw the Professor reach for the same old copy of Planet Earth – you know, the one where he allows another first-inning home run and is out of the game before the end of the 5th inning – I thought to myself, “Oh, come on. Not again. We’ve read this chapter before.”
But it was my mistake. This time – after allowing two earned runs on three hits, including a double and a homer in the first – the Professor read the room, adjusted his lesson plan, and gave up just one more hit (and no walks!) for the rest of class. His final line?
A beautiful 7.0 IP, 4H, 2ER, 0BB, 8Ks:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 30, 2018
Despite laboring through the first inning yet again, an all too common occurrence for the Cubs right-hander here in 2018, Kyle Hendricks managed to retire the last 17 batters in a row last night, stretching what looked to be another abbreviated performance into one of his finest starts of the year.
“My mindset was better, [I was] aggressive in the strike zone,” Hendricks told Cubs.com. “Even in the first inning, I made a couple bad pitches. After that, mechanics settled in, I started repeating it better. It’s just bringing the two together, repeating my mechanics from the first pitch in the first inning but keeping that same mindset, being aggressive in the strike zone, getting quicker outs. I still got in some 3-2 counts but the mindset was better.”
Watching the game yesterday, I actually expected to hear Hendricks suggest that he made some mechanical fix following the first inning, but it sounds like it was more of an “execution” mindset. And while the distinction might not make too much of a difference, I do tend to think that’s better. You don’t want a guy messing around with/changing his mechanics too much this late into the season, so it’s nice to hear that he already knows what he needs to do and simply needed to execute, rinse, and repeat.
Now let’s move beyond just yesterday for a minute. Although the results haven’t been great for Hendricks lately, there actually has been some stuff to like. For one, he hasn’t walked more than two batters in any of his last seven games. There was a brief stretch just before that where he was walking an uncharacteristically large number of guys, so that is good to see. On top of that, he also struck out eight for the second consecutive game. Needless to say, his 33 strikeouts to 5 walks since the start of July is VERY promising and reminiscent of the dominant Hendricks we’ve come to trust.
But while command was his calling card once upon a time, I’d argue that Hendricks’ ability to induce weak contact and avoid the hard stuff is actually his biggest strength. And again, for the second-consecutive game, he killed it on that front:
Those are *elite* numbers – if even for one game – and followed up a similar effort last time out against the Diamondbacks. Also encouraging? Hendricks induced ground balls at a 47.1% clip last night after going 50.0% in the start prior.
Altogether, then, that means that in his last two games, Hendricks has walked basically nobody, struck out plenty, gotten a ton of weak contact, and is forcing most stuff into the ground. That is a recipe for success and hopefully something he can continue to do going forward.
It’s been a down season for Kyle Hendricks overall, but there are glimpses of hope. Be it his comments, the numbers, or the numbers behind the numbers, I still believe the Professor will look a lot more like himself by the time we get to the end of the semester.