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‘I just want to be doing my part’: A humbled Kyle Hendricks takes his new role in stride

1 month agoTony Andracki

Kyle Hendricks’ responses should come as absolutely no surprise.

One of the most accountable and self-aware athletes in the long, illustrious history of the Cubs, of course Hendricks took his demotion to the bullpen in stride.

Of course it was an easy conversation between Hendricks and manager Craig Counsell discussing the transition.

Of course Hendricks was never going to create any sort of drama.

Of course he said all the right things — that he is excited for the new challenge and ready to do whatever he can to help the team win.

On the mound, Hendricks occasionally spins in a curveball but he never does so in life. He means it when he says he is putting the team above his own individual thoughts or goals.

And since he is able to look himself in the mirror and accurately assess what is going on, he wasn’t surprised by this move.

“Of course, you expect something to happen,” Hendricks said when he met with the media Wednesday afternoon. “It was just going terrible, obviously. You can’t put up those kind of results when we’re in a win-now kind of mode.

“And that’s exactly where I want to be. I want to be part of a team that’s winning. I just want to be doing my part to contribute to that winning. I wasn’t doing that.”

Hendricks hopes the new focus and perspective can help him get back on track — and get back to a point where he is helping the team win.

He is looking at the move to the bullpen as a new challenge.

That’s why it wasn’t a difficult conversation with Counsell discussing the demotion.

“Pretty simple, honestly,” Hendricks said. “I mean, we all know what’s been going on. I think just trying to give the team the best chance to win at the end of the day. And that’s all I’m trying to be about, too.”

[WATCH: Hendricks discusses his move to the bullpen]

Counsell was extremely direct following Hendricks’ last start:

“We certainly need better,” Counsell said.

That’s a fair assessment of a pitcher who has a 10.57 ERA, 1.99 WHIP and 10 homers allowed through 7 starts.

So it is not shocking that a player with those stats would lose his spot in the rotation.

The tricky aspects come in the form of who the player is and the pedigree he carries.

Hendricks has been a driving force in the Cubs rotation for more than a decade and has started some of the most important games in franchise history — including Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

He also is a player who has very little experience pitching out of a bullpen and a guy who does not traditionally boast the stuff of a modern reliever.

While many pitchers actually see their velocity tick up in the bullpen, Hendricks joked that he might take something off his fastball that averages a shade over 88 mph — just to keep people guessing.

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The experience as a reliever is another hurdle entirely.

Hendricks has only pitched out of the bullpen twice in his big-league career — once before the All-Star Break in 2016 and again in the National League Wild-Card Game in 2018.

He did make 21 appearances as a reliever in the minor leagues and he can draw on all of those experiences while also listening to the advice from teammates who have made the transition before like Mark Leiter Jr. and Drew Smyly.

“It’s definitely different than having all day to prepare for your start,” Hendricks said. “So just little things, more of how the feeling was of what it takes to get your body ready and how it felt when that phone rings and when your name was called.

“How did it feel warming up and getting 10 or 15 pitches? There’s definitely more adrenaline. So just managing all of that and knowing all those feelings and what to expect really helps.”

One benefit that can work in Hendricks’ favor is the fact that he has actually been most successful the first time facing a lineup this year.

The opposition is hitting .254 off him the first time through and that number jumps to .377 the second time and .667 the third time through.

In the bullpen, the Cubs can pick their spots with Hendricks and have him only face the opposing lineup one time through. Or he might be utilized in even shorter bursts, like for an inning at a time.

He’s ready for whatever.

“I told [Counsell] I’m just gonna be ready to go,” Hendricks said. “Whatever’s needed. Truly. I just want to help the team win in any way I can.”

Hendricks is 34 and in the last year of his contract. He doesn’t know what the future holds and while he admitted he does think about potential next steps, he is trying to keep all his focus on where he is right now.

“I’m just so lucky and grateful,” he said. “All the time I’ve gotten here in Chicago to play in front of the best fans in the world, play at Wrigley Field. Honestly, I’m just taking it one day at at a time. Whenever that day comes, we’ll approach that and look at it head on, but I don’t really tend to plan those kinds of things.

“Try and stay in the moment, see where it takes me. And right now, I’m just super excited for this opportunity and this challenge in a way just to be with my guys out in the bullpen and help the team win.”

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