Chicago Cubs

Cubs' Kyle Hendricks works on curveball

Teammates and coaches watch as Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks warms up in the bullpen before the team's spring training game against the Diamondbacks on Saturday in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Teammates and coaches watch as Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks warms up in the bullpen before the team's spring training game against the Diamondbacks on Saturday in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Having just turned 29, Kyle Hendricks is hardly an old man, even by baseball standards.

In fact, he’s still the youngest member of the Cubs’ starting-pitching rotation.

Let’s now call Hendricks a young veteran and one who is more than willing to learn some new tricks.

Hendricks, who has gained success by being a fastball-changeup pitcher, has been working hard on a curveball this spring training.

“It gives me confidence seeing what [the curveball] does and the swings I get on it,” he told reporters in Arizona after a recent start. “So this is the time to build that confidence.

“The goal is for it to become more of a weapon.”

Hendricks enjoyed a strong second half of the season last year. Going into his July 9 start, he was 5-8 with an ERA of 4.27.

He worked 81/3 innings in that start, giving up only an unearned run. From that point until the end of the season, he went 9-3 with a 2.65 ERA for a season line of 14-11 with a 3.44 ERA and a WHIP of 1.15.

His 33 starts were a career high, as were his 199 innings pitched, which led the team.

Hendricks is an admitted “feel” pitcher, and when he gets into trouble or hits bad streaks during the season, it usually means his mechanics are out of whack.

To his credit, Hendricks gets after it during these periods, and he often can be seen working before games with the pitching coach to get things ironed out.

This year, the pitching coach is Tommy Hottovy, the third guy in that job in three years for the Cubs. Hottovy and Hendricks are not strangers to one another. Hottovy has been with the Cubs since 2015, previously working in the areas of advance scouting and run prevention. A lot of his work was helping pitchers through video study.

“In the first half, we were searching, and we talked a lot and we broke down a lot of video together,” Hendricks told cubs.com. “There were a few differences that we saw, for sure. But then it’s how do you take that information and translate it into a feeling when you’re out there? So it took some time, for sure.”

Hendricks could be a No. 1 starter in many rotations, but on a Cubs team that also features Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana, Hendricks can slide in anywhere. After all, he did start Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

The stats site FanGraphs likes Hendricks.

“The first half of 2018 looked to be the beginning of the end for Kyle Hendricks,” wrote author Nick Pollack. “The craftsman held a 4.27 ERA through his first 17 starts, with his heater missing edges and finding barrels frequently despite a much-needed increase in velocity (albeit, still under an underwhelming 88 mph).

“However, Hendricks’ final three months returned a marvelous 2.65 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, reclaiming his heater’s command while his changeup continued to be the massive deceiver. There’s still a small margin for error that can create the valleys of production through a six-month season, though this display of success after adversity should give us confidence in Hendricks to comfortably stick under a 4.00 ERA again in 2019.”

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