Kyle Hendricks is the calming presence the Cubs need right now
The Cubs have maintained all year that riding the roller coaster doesn’t help things.
They can’t afford to get too high after wins or too low after losses. Not during the course of a six-month marathon season.
There’s a reason why stoicism and even-keeled demeanors are revered throughout the game.
And it’s hard to get more even-keeled than Kyle Hendricks.
If you watch him pitch, it’s impossible to tell if he’s throwing in a postseason elimination game or on a Tuesday night in June.
In Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the Pirates, Hendricks did his job, even if he didn’t get the support around him. The Cubs did not score a run while Hendricks was in the game (leaving 10 on base through 6 innings) and a couple of defensive miscues behind him directly led to 3 runs.
In what could be his last start at Wrigley Field this season (or beyond?), the veteran right-hander allowed 3 runs (1 earned) in 6 innings.
With the loss, the Cubs are now tied for the final Wild Card spot in the NL, but technically would miss the playoffs as the Marlins own the tiebreaker between the two teams.
“Obviously a little bit of frustration but no panic at all,” Hendricks said. “We still know what we’re capable of.”
Nine games remain on the Cubs’ schedule. Hendricks will likely only get 1 more start but the rest of the team can benefit from following his lead.
“I’ve always thought his demeanor was just so different than anybody I’ve ever been around,” David Ross said. “When I think about his personality, I’ve got images of him walking off the field against the Dodgers when he almost no-hit them in the postseason in ‘16 and just like ‘no big deal.’ Just like he’s out for a morning stroll walking off the mound.
“He’s so calm. You rarely see him frustrated and worked up. I know internally he deals with stuff, but it’s just that balance of his track record and what he brings to this young group is really valuable.”
The Cubs understand they have not played as well as they need to recently — dropping 4 straight series with a 3-10 record in that span — but they also know that putting more pressure on themselves won’t lead to better results.
“Baseball is not a sport where you can go in the clubhouse and yell at anyone and expect more motivation, more effort,” Jed Hoyer said earlier in the week.
The Cubs understand now is not the time to make some drastic, wholesale changes.
“Sometimes trying harder and trying to do more actually works against you,” Dansby Swanson said. “Being able to soak in moments and be grateful for the opportunity, it can take a little bit of pressure off.
“Just doing the thing of, ‘I gotta get this done’ to ‘I’m going to.’ Having a little bit of a switch in mentality. There’s so many guys in here that care and that obviously want what’s best for this group and want to win and are doing everything in their power — even at this stage in the year — working really hard to make things happen. And we believe it will start to flip in our favor.”
Hendricks embodies what the Cubs are looking for right now as they aim to get back on track and secure a spot in the playoffs.
He’s been through it all before throughout his 10-year career. He knows the key to surviving a playoff push this late in the season.
“Back to the simple focus,” he said. “Pitch to pitch. … Just simplifying things when it gets in this situation.
“It’s all in our control. We gotta play fundamental baseball, get back to playing the good brand of baseball that we’re used to. That’s it. Just pressing a little bit but it’s natural this time of year. Just gotta refocus.”
If the Cubs are able to punch a ticket to the postseason, Hendricks’ re-emergence is a major source of optimism for this team.
He missed the entire second half of last season with a capsular tear in his shoulder and the Cubs came into 2023 unsure how much they’d be able to count on him in the rotation.
When he was on the field in 2021-22, Hendricks had a 4.78 ERA as he fought inconsistency from outing to outing.
But this year, Hendricks has been the model of consistency. He returned in late May and since then, the 33-year-old looks very much like his pre-2021 self with a 3.66 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. More than half (12) of his 23 games have been quality starts and he’s given up more than 3 earned runs in an outing just 4 times this season.
“I’m not surprised, honestly,” Ross said. “He was pitching at a decent level even when dealing with the injury and dealing with just not [being] 100%. So, him getting healthy, I think, once we knew that and he was able to come back and pitch and taking the extra time to actually build up the way we thought would be most successful and he thought would be most successful and actually changing some of his routines and start to see him fill out and just look really strong and recovering really well and go out and pitch his game.
“He’s been good for a really, really long time here. Just super rewarding for him and nice to see as his manager and a former teammate. He’s just really solidified our rotation and having him and his consistency, his demeanor, his track record is just really valuable for us.”
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