With Opening Day nod, Kyle Hendricks has a clear mission
MESA, Ariz. — For the third straight season, David Ross will hand the ball to Kyle Hendricks to kick off the Cubs’ season.
Ross made the official announcement Saturday at Cubs camp. Marcus Stroman will likely follow Hendricks in the rotation.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Hendricks said after his final spring outing Friday. “Just No. 1 for Rossy to make that decision and have the trust in me to give me the ball was amazing the last two years.”
Ross caught 5 of Hendricks’ starts in 2015-16 and has seen the 32-year-old right-hander grow throughout his career.
“He continues to evolve as a pitcher,” Ross said. “The steadiness of who he is and his routine is just something that you learn to love and you can rely on. Reliability, consistency, the things that make up major league players that are able to play this game for a long time — Kyle has a lot of those attributes. I know he’s gonna be prepared, I know he’s gonna be ready and I know he’s gonna handle the moment as best as he possibly can or as anybody could.”
Last season, Hendricks lasted only 3 innings against the Pirates on Opening Day, walking 3 batters and taking a loss.
He is looking to spin a different narrative in 2022, like he did two years ago when he kicked off the COVID-shortened season with a complete game shutout against the Brewers.
“Going out and establishing that aggressiveness, establishing the identity,” Hendricks said. “Last year, I didn’t do a great job. This year, I want to come in and be aggressive, attack, get after it and see what happens.”
“Aggressive” is a word that Hendricks keeps coming back to.
And he feels like it’s his job to put the Cubs’ pitching staff down a better path in 2022.
“Last year, we were falling behind too many guys,” he said. “So many walks, so many baserunners. It’s that tone — aggressive, coming right at guys. You can tell. Body language and just pitches, how they’re coming out.
“Being aggressive, coming at guys and forcing them to do something they’re not comfortable with.”
In Hendricks’ final tune-up for the regular season on Friday, he also had a clear mission — establish his low-and-away fastball. He felt like he wasn’t able to rely on that pitch consistently last season, when he had with a career-high 4.77 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.
He will continue to work on refining that over the next few days leading up to April 7.
Hendricks also understands what the Opening Day title means and appreciates those who came before him.
He has talked often in the past about how much Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta meant to him. Lester took the ball in Game 1 in 2015 and 2017-19 while Arrieta got the Opening Day nod in 2016.
“The first one meant a lot to me just from the guys that came before me and what I learned from them, what they taught me, what I was able to watch and then take that out there for myself,” Hendricks said. “It’s a testament to the guys that came before me and what I learned from them. It really meant a lot to me then.
“Now moving forward, it’s just kind of falling into that rhythm and that timing. Again, not thinking too much of it, keep it simple for me. It’s just like any other game.”