Calm, cool and collected: Cubs still in awe of Kyle Hendricks’ mastery
Anthony Rizzo has only seen Kyle Hendricks rattled one time.
Once in seven years as teammates.
During a mic’d-up segment on the Marquee Sports Network broadcast last week, Rizzo declined to go into detail on that particular instance but he was effusive in his praise of the Cubs Opening Day starter.
“He is so calm, cool, collected. It’s a cliche, but it doesn’t matter when he’s on the mound,” Rizzo said. “Obviously he’s pitched in Game 7, Opening Day, big spot.
“I would love to get a heart monitor on him and see where his heartbeat’s at. I’m [betting] like 60 beats a minute, just constant.”
That emotional control has been a big part of Hendricks’ success as he takes the ball to open the Cubs’ season for the second straight year.
He knows Thursday’s game will bring a little bit extra to the table in terms of energy and emotion with fans back in Wrigley Field for the first time since 2019 and the start of a normal, 162-game season after last year’s oddity.
Hendricks also knows this season will be different than past years with workload and innings management a central theme around the game. He still set a personal goal of 200 innings and wants to be the workhorse of this Cubs pitching staff.
Last year, Hendricks set the tone right out of the gate with a masterful performance to shut out the Brewers. It’s not realistic to expect an outing like that every time he takes the ball, but the Cubs will be counting on Hendricks to anchor a staff that will pitch to contact.
He relishes that opportunity.
“It’s always pitching and defense,” he said. “That’s how you win ballgames. That’s what Rossy preaches too. It starts with us setting that tone. And you can set a tone just by aggressiveness and how you attack a hitter. You don’t have to have high velocity or power stuff in order to confront the hitter and come right at him and set the tone.
“I think we have a lot of guys that really know how to pitch with their stuff and trust their stuff, so they do a really good job of that.”
As Hendricks enters his age-31 season, he’s been tasked with stepping up more as a leader – a position he’s grown comfortable in over the last few years.
David Ross called him the “pro-est pro” he’s ever been around in terms of Hendricks showing up, knowing what he needs to accomplish on a given day and doing what he can to help the team.
Hendricks is the perfect example for a new pitcher like Zach Davies (who has a similar profile) and less established arms like Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay, who are still coming into their own in the majors.
“The leadership qualities that he has really are very quiet and unassuming, but so great and detailed when it comes to things that have helped him,” Ross said. “I think moreso even now with the type of pitchers we have, his leadership has grown even more and the way that he talks to the other pitchers we have about what he uses, what he thinks, how he pitches.
“As much as I wanna say this guy has taken a backseat because of some of the other leaders and the hardware we’ve had, he hasn’t. He quietly leads in his own way with his work ethic, how he studies and his performance and the way he carries himself. He’s got his routine. He comes in everyday, knows his routine, he sticks around, talks baseball in the dugout after he pitches.
“It’s a great quiet type of leadership that you don’t see it unless you’re around him a lot. I think that’s one of the pleasures of being on his team is getting to see that aspect of him that not a lot of people get to see.”
Unassuming is a good word to describe Hendricks.
Jake Arrieta said his teammate is “extremely funny in a certain setting” and lauded Hendricks’ guitar skills and golf game.
When Hendricks was trying to carve out a place in the big-league rotation in 2014-15, Arrieta was a big resource for him and the two talked often about how to attack hitters and establishing a routine.
As Arrieta rejoined the Cubs this winter, one of the things he was most looking forward to was teaming up with Hendricks once again.
“He’s extremely talented,” Arrieta said. “I tell this to young kids all over the place that if you want to try to emulate somebody, you should emulate Kyle Hendricks. Obviously this game is infatuated with high velocity and spin rate and all those things are great. But you watch a guy like Kyle pitch and it gives just about anybody hope that they could eventually one day do what he’s doing.
“You don’t have to throw 96-plus mph to pitch in the big leagues. And he’s a great example of that. He pitches within himself; he’s got an extremely low heart rate when he’s on the mound. He’s not fazed by anything.
“He’s just an extremely good example for everybody who aspires to be a Major League Baseball player and fortunate to call him a really good friend of mine and a teammate again.”