Kyle Hendricks’ ‘nonchalant’ response to being named Cubs Opening Day starter
The meeting was a little nerve-wrecking for first year manager David Ross.
He stepped into a room with his pitching staff, knowing full well the weight of the update he was about to deliver.
Then he told the news to his pitching staff: Kyle Hendricks would be the Cubs Opening Day starter when they take on the Brewers a week from Friday. Yu Darvish will take the bump at Wrigley Field on Saturday.
“It may have been a bigger deal to me to tell him than it was for him to hear the news,” Ross admitted. “You know him; he’s nonchalant, no big deal.”
Even when he spoke to the media, Hendricks didn’t show the enthusiasm you might expect after receiving the first Opening Day nod of his career.
“I’m just excited to get out back on the field with the boys, with my teammates and just having them start to count,” Hendricks said. “This has been a really good summer camp. It’s been a lot of fun facing your own guys getting that kinda competition, but just being able to be out there again, real competition, facing another team with my teammates, that’s really all. I can’t wait for it.”
Ross took the opportunity to tell Hendricks the news with his fellow starters, something that Hendricks greatly appreciated, even if Ross considered it to be a “little anticlimactic.”
“Just a really cool experience for me; just to be able to say that it’s happened, obviously, but it was even cooler just to have those other guys in the room with me and just congratulating me with my first one,” Hendricks said. “Especially guys like Jon [Lester] that have been around so long and someone that I’ve looked up to for years on this team and learned so much from him on how to do it. How to go about it the right way. It did mean a lot in that way just to go through that.”
Then, Ross called Hendricks to speak to him one-on-one about the decision. Ross told him what Hendricks means to him and to the group, explaining why he wanted him to open things up for the Cubs’ staff.
“I thanked him over and over,” Hendricks said. “It’s on me now to come through for that.”
If his summer camp performances are anything to go by, he won’t have trouble in coming through.
Hendricks looked stellar in Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage, going 6.1 innings, striking out 3 and allowing just 3 baserunners on 70 pitches. But that wasn’t the deciding factor for Ross in picking him over Darvish, who struck out 3 and allowed 2 hits and 2 walks in 3.2 innings of work on Tuesday.
Hendricks being ahead of Darvish in terms of buildup is another reason why Ross and the Cubs opted for Hendricks over Darvish, who was impressive at the end of last season..
“I think we coulda gone either Kyle or Yu,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I think in this situation, Kyle’s more stretched out so that kinda led David’s decision.
“It’s a nice thing for Kyle. It’s a feather in any pitcher’s cap to get the Opening Day start. He’s earned it.”
Hendricks isn’t settled where he’s at, either. He’s hoping to increase his pitch count to 85 in his next scrimmage start and continue to work up from there.
“You don’t wanna increase by more than 15, usually, start to start,” Hendricks said. “Eighty-five tops for this last one and then go into the regular season, so hopefully I can be at 100. But, you know, when you get down [to] the regular season, you just gotta see how the game goes and take it from there. You’re trying to win at all costs especially with as few games as we have.”
That’s a big change from the pitcher he was at the beginning of his career. When he first came up with the Cubs, Hendricks had a perception for being a player who couldn’t work deep into games.
“I remember when I first got here the narrative was, he couldn’t go through the lineup three times, which makes me laugh now, just to see the way he’s grown,” Ross said.
That’s all changed. The mentality for him has changed and, being the team-first player that he is, he knows how important a strong, deep start to begin the season is.
“I put in a lot of hard work, not only this past offseason, but during the time off, quarantine, changing my routine workout wise so I feel stronger than ever before,” Hendricks said. “Yeah, I wanna be that guy for my team, just to be out there, take the ball every fifth day and go deep, go deep in games and eat up innings.”
Now, he has the opportunity to achieve his goal in the first game of the season. And Ross believes the pressure of Opening Day, especially in a shortened season where each game is intensified, won’t get to him.
“You talk about the poise and not afraid of the big moment,” Ross said. “Same guy; doesn’t matter if it’s a scrimmage for us or it’s Game 7, I’ve seen the same guy every time he’s out there on the bump. All those things come into play when you’re talking about a guy that you want on Opening Day. So, he checks a lot of boxes for me.”