WASHINGTON -- The atmosphere and the numbers on the scoreboard at Nationals Park suggested Kyle Hendricks was pitching with adrenaline Friday night. His appearance suggested otherwise.When his job was done, he nodded once and slowly walked toward the Cubs' dugout. The right-hander pitched seven brilliant innings, didn't allow a hit
WASHINGTON -- The atmosphere and the numbers on the scoreboard at Nationals Park suggested Kyle Hendricks was pitching with adrenaline Friday night. His appearance suggested otherwise.
When his job was done, he nodded once and slowly walked toward the Cubs' dugout. The right-hander pitched seven brilliant innings, didn't allow a hit after the second and led the Cubs to a 3-0 win over the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.
"This is as good as I've seen him," manager Joe Maddon said.
"Maybe not best ever," Hendricks said, "but it was up there."
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Coming off a strong second half, Hendricks did not miss a beat Friday as he added to the postseason track record he established last October. In eight playoff starts, Hendricks is now 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA.
"He's always under the radar. There's no emotion," Cubs third baseman Kristopher Bryant said. "He doesn't throw 97 [mph], but he gets the job done. He did it last year in the playoffs and this first game. I can't say enough about Kyle. He had a great game today. Hopefully, we'll see him plenty more times throughout this month."
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Before a sold-out postseason crowd of 43,898 that roared through Stephen Strasburg's early no-hit bid, Hendricks' sinker lit up the radar gun -- relatively speaking for a man with a fastball about as firm as his opponent's changeup. His primary pitch topped 90 mph twice and averaged a season-high 88.2 mph, the hardest he'd thrown since last summer.
Hendricks felt that he was rounding into form down the stretch. His mechanics were getting sharper, and his timing improved. The velocity was bound to follow, particularly in a postseason environment.
"I think I'm just a laid-back guy, but you're definitely feeling it," Hendricks said. "The energy there in the stadium and crowd was pretty cool, but we've played some big games, even down the stretch in our division. We've had good atmospheres where we're playing, so we were ready to take that adrenaline on and use it to our advantage."
How did he do it against an imposing Washington lineup? He stuck to his strengths.
According to Statcast™, he threw only one curveball; the rest of his 106 pitches were fastballs (sinkers and four-seamers) and changeups." Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon said the two pitches looked identical coming out of Hendricks' hand, but the changeup clocks in 8-10 mph slower than his sinker.
Of the 70 sinkers he threw, 24 were called strikes. The Nationals swung and missed at six of his 23 changeups. He induced a ton of weak contact, allowing an average 77.9 mph exit velocity despite three hard-hit balls in the first inning.
"You know, that's what he does. When he's going well, that's what he does," Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "He mixes it up. It seems like every time you go up there with a plan he's kind of [thinking] the other way. You've got to tip your hat to that guy."
Hendricks kept Trea Turner off base all night. He allowed only two hits, both singles. He walked three and hit Matt Wieters, but even with Strasburg breezing through innings, he did not flinch in the rare moments the Nats had an opportunity to score.
"He's the same guy all the time, no matter what, and it's impressive," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "It's not easy to do in this game. You know, he just has his confidence about him; that he doesn't get rattled. He has a lot of experience."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.