After a Bumpy Start to the Season, Kyle Hendricks Is Looking So Very Locked-in

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After a Bumpy Start to the Season, Kyle Hendricks Is Looking So Very Locked-in

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Hendricks wasn’t as good last night as he was against the Cardinals last weekend, but the crazy thing is that he still had a shot at tossing another 9.0 innings at Wrigley Field without an earned run and in fewer than 100 pitches.

In fact, he was only lifted from the game at all, because his place in the batting order was due up in the bottom of the eighth, and Joe Maddon had hoped to get a little sunshine between the Cubs’ lead and the big bad Marlins. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t quite work out, as the Cubs promptly went three-up, three-down on offense and then gave up the lead in the top of the ninth. Oooops.

At least Jason Heyward eventually saved the day and Hendricks still twirled a gem, but I can’t help but feel robbed of watching him throw back-to-back complete game shutouts (sorta) – be it by Maddon’s decision to pull him, which wasn’t in itself terrible, and that stupid first inning where the contact was literally too soft to turn into quick out. But oh, well. Dude was still nails – 8.0 IP, 5H, 0ER, 0BB, 7Ks (96 pitches) – and should be for a while.

(Photo by Getty Images)

On top of allowing just five hits and one unearned run last night, Hendricks managed to allow zero free passes for the second consecutive game, while striking out seven. He also touched 89 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball, which is usually a sign that he is absolutely locked in and feeling his best. It may not seem like much, but we more or less know by now that the extra 1 MPH on his fastball makes his devastating changeup that much more effective. And, indeed, last night Hendricks got seven whiffs on his changeup (12 overall), leading to his highest whiff rate of the season.

Speaking of his season numbers, I almost can’t believe them: 3.19 ERA, 3.09 FIP. Even after a crummy start to the season, his ERA and FIP both rank among the top-25 in baseball, but I guess that’s what happens when three of your last four starts have been shutouts of at least 7.0 IP.

Here’s a look at his highlights from last night:

And as @Cubs points out, Hendricks hasn’t allowed an earned run at Wrigley Field in his last 28 IP there. What can I say? The guy’s comfortable at home: “Kyle was great once again,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He made some pitches that he’d like to have back overall, but really pitched well. He found a rhythm again. He does that. He wasn’t in the rhythm, but then he found it and he stayed with it for a long period of time.”

But I wouldn’t expect this hot streak to stop once he hits the road, either.

Hendricks may not be striking out everyone in his path this season (19.1%), but his 4.5% walk rate is among the ten best in MLB this season and last night, in particular, his contact management skills were on FULL display: 65% ground ball rate, 33.3% soft-hit rate, 23.8% hard-hit rate. That’s just about as good as you could reasonably hope those numbers would look in any one given start.

And for the season, Hendricks’ ground ball rate is now up to 46.1% while his hard-hit rate is down to 36.6% – both of which are better than the league-average. It had been a slow start for Hendricks this season, but lately, he’s as locked-in as he’s ever been.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami