Hendricks comfortable with high expectations

Righty confident in this year's set of starters, says it feels similar to 2016

February 25th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- In 2016, the Cubs' rotation led the Major Leagues with a 2.96 ERA and .213 batting average allowed and paced the National League in innings pitched. It was a stellar staff, and a key reason the Cubs won the World Series that season. This year's quintet could be even better.

On Monday, will be the first of the Cubs' projected starters to start a Cactus League game, facing the Mariners. , who is expected to be the Opening Day starter, will start Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday and on Friday.

Chatwood and Darvish are the new additions to the rotation, and as much as the Cubs' pitchers will miss and , they are welcoming the newcomers.

"This [rotation] has to be up at the top, or close to it," Hendricks said Sunday. "In '16, I know the things we were able to do were close to historical. We don't focus on those things. I think the guys we were able to add, Chatwood and Darvish, they're awesome guys and fit in perfectly in this environment.

"We've already started with the friendly competition. I think that's what makes everyone better. That's kind of what we had in '16. You can feel it already."

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It isn't that Hendricks is predicting another World Series championship this year.

"It feels very similar [to 2016], but on the other hand, you have to move forward," Hendricks said. "We've learned a lot about ourselves the last two years. It's different. We have to know we're here now. This is a new year. Every year, the journey is different."

In 2016, Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks and Lackey each topped 188 innings. If all goes well this season, the Cubs' rotation could total 1,000 innings (200 from each starter). In 2016, Hendricks totaled a career-high 190 innings, but he was hampered last season by a hand injury, which limited him to 139 2/3 innings.

"It's just consistency for me," Hendricks said. "Last year was a one-time thing for me, hopefully. I feel good where I am now. It's always been a goal of mine to be that consistent guy, get the innings and get that 200 number. It's a big number for starters. It's a goal of mine, and I think I can get there."

Manager Joe Maddon has described Hendricks as a "different cat" this spring.

"With all of our guys it seems ... they're more comfortable in the exchanges, and I'm talking about the verbal exchanges," Maddon said. "There's no awkward pauses in conversations, everybody is at ease with everybody else. It really stands out with [Hendricks]. He's very confident where he's at now.

"He's become a really solid Major League starting pitcher, a really high-end guy with less than the velocity that everybody's looking for. He knows, 'I belong, I can do this.' He's all about winning."

Hendricks, 28, showed how far he has come in the second half last season when he posted a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts. He was picked to open the NL Division Series against the Nationals and gave up two hits over seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 win. Is Hendricks different?

"I think I'm just more myself," Hendricks said. "Through the years, Joe and the front office, they've given me the luxury and told me to be myself and 'be you.' You don't get that in a lot of places. I think I'm finally comfortable in that -- being myself, doing my routine, knowing that what I do has the ability to work. When you put the work in and see the results, it just makes you more confident."