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Hendricks, Stroman ready to form a dynamic duo atop Cubs rotation

2 years agoTony Andracki

MESA, Ariz. — Kyle Hendricks has a new running mate atop the Cubs rotation and the early results are certainly positive for the pairing.

Marcus Stroman signed a 3-year, $71 million deal just before the lockout and brings instant pedigree as one of the top starting pitchers on the free agent market.

He was 10-13 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.15 WHIP last season with the Mets, leading the league with 33 starts.

Despite that clout, Stroman quickly dismissed any potential question of who the Cubs’ Opening Day starter should be.

“I truly believe Hendricks should be the Opening Day [starter] just because of his career, how unbelievable he’s been in the playoffs,” Stroman said last week. “His resume speaks for itself. He’s the guy who should be handed the ball each and every Opening Day as long as he’s here.”

That statement resonated with Hendricks.

“I appreciate it so much,” Hendricks said. “I’ve told him that, too. One of the things about me is I care about the end and winning. That’s really it. He knows that too — he’s the same exact way, so that’s why he’s saying things like that.

“I told him he deserves it after the season he had last year. It’s what have you done for me lately? I’m just so excited to pitch alongside him and we know that whoever gets the first game, we’re excited for the whole road together.”

[MORE: Cubs pitching staff slowly starting to take shape]

Hendricks has taken the ball from manager David Ross for each of the Cubs’ last two Opening Days — both coming at Wrigley Field. He tossed a complete game shutout against the Brewers in July 2020 to kick off the shortened season.

The Cubs have not yet committed to Hendricks starting Opening Day and will instead make the official announcement closer to April 7.

Hendricks continues to build up to that game, as he threw 3 innings and 60 pitches against the Royals Sunday at Sloan Park. He allowed 4 runs and 2 homers, but also induced some swings and misses and feels good about where he’s at with 10 days left in camp.

He is on track to make 1 more start in a spring game before getting ready for Opening Day.

Even though he cares more about winning than who starts Game 1, Hendricks admitted it would be an honor to get the ball for the third straight season.

“It means something for sure — I can’t say it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I try and take it like any other start. I want to go out there and be the guy that my teammates know I can be. I wasn’t that at the end of last year, so my focus is just going out and making good pitches the same as I would any other time.

“Setting that tone, knowing my teammates can rely on me and being the guy I’m supposed to be.”

The 32-year-old posted the highest ERA of his career in 2021 — 4.77 over 32 starts. That came after he twirled a dazzling 2.88 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 12 starts during 2020.

Hendricks got off to a slow start last year with a 7.54 ERA in April. But he did become somebody his team could rely on for most of the summer, going 12-1 with a 2.89 ERA from May 1 through the end of July. That included a stretch where he notched a quality start in 13 of 15 outings.

He didn’t finish the season the way he wanted (7.39 ERA in August-September) but it was also a unique situation after the drastic trade deadline shakeup.

Now, Hendricks is ready to put that behind him and work with Stroman to form a dynamic duo at the head of the Cubs rotation. The Cubs feel fortunate to have the pairing as they embark on another unconventional season following a hurried Spring Training.

“They are as diligent as it comes with their offseason routine and knowing what they need and so both of them came in in really great places,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “That definitely helps when you’re planning everything together knowing you have two guys that are gonna be able to handle a heavier workload maybe earlier in the year than some other guys.

“…Those two guys especially the way they work, the way they go about their business — they’re as good as it comes in terms of professionalism and being ready to roll.”

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