MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs pitching staff has seen plenty of turnover in recent years. Just ask lefty Drew Smyly, who last was around the team in 2018.
“Kyle’s still holding it down,” he said.
That phrase sums up Kyle Hendricks’ value to the Cubs in plenty of different contexts. And on Saturday, it rang true as manager David Ross named Hendricks the Opening Day starter for the third year in a row.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Hendricks said, reflecting on the past two seasons, “just number one for Rossy to make that decision and have the trust in me to give me the ball. It was amazing the last two years.”
Hendricks is one of just three 2016 World Series holdovers on the Cubs roster, and the only pitcher still on the roster from that championship team. His career has been marked by consistency.
He landed with the Cubs as a prospect in 2012, traded by the Rangers as part of the package for right-hander Ryan Dempster. Since then, Hendricks has built his whole major-league career in Chicago.
The year the Cubs won the World Series, Hendricks posted the best ERA in the National League (2.13), but the finesse pitcher came in third for Cy Young voting, behind Max Scherzer and Hendricks’ own teammate Jon Lester.
Despite that early success, Hendricks didn’t get his first opening day start until 2020, when he threw a complete-game shutout against the Brewers. Ross has handed him the ball each opening day since.
Long before Ross announced his choice Saturday, Hendricks’ new rotation mate Marcus Stroman was lobbying for Hendricks to be the Opening day Starter, on Twitter and when asked about him this spring.
“Just because of his career, how unbelievable he’s been in the playoffs, his resume speaks for itself,” said Stroman, who is lined up to pitch the second game of the opening series against the Brewers next week. “So, he’s the guy who should be handed the ball each and every Opening Day as long as he’s here.”
Hendricks’ trademark consistency was shaken last season, when he posted a 4.77 ERA, by far the worst of his career. Over the offseason and into the spring, Hendricks has been focussed on the angle of his pitches, establishing the fastball down in the strike zone.
The results have been uneven this spring – Hendricks gave up four home runs to the Diamondbacks on Friday, in his last start of spring training – but he’s more interested in executing his plan and honing the shape of his pitches. Hendricks said he’s been pleased with what he’s done in those areas, setting himself up for the regular season.
“This year, I just want to definitely come in and be aggressive, attack, get after it, see what happens,” Hendricks said of Opening Day.
That’s the tone he wants to set for the Cubs rotation from Game 1. The staff may have gone through plenty of change in recent years, but at the top of the rotation, Hendricks is still holding it down.