CHICAGO -- Within a rotation that features a pair of two-time World Series champs and the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, it was the 26-year-old former Dartmouth economics major who was actually the stingiest of them all during the Cubs' 103-win season.
And so it won't be Jake Arrieta or John Lackey taking the mound for the Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Giants on Saturday, but rather Kyle Hendricks, who retooled his repertoire en route to posting the lowest ERA by (2.13) a starting pitcher this season. He'll be opposed by Jeff Samardzija, whose departure in a midseason trade two years ago helped pave the way for Hendricks' arrival to the big leagues.
With the Cubs holding a 1-0 series lead after their 1-0 win on Friday night behind Jon Lester's gem, tonight's first pitch for Game 2 is scheduled for 8 ET/7 CT. The game will be televised on MLB Network.
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"To be able to pitch here in front of these fans, Game 2, it's a dream come true," Hendricks said. "Really, it was a dream come true last year just to be pitching in a playoff game. But for the team, for [manager] Joe [Maddon] to have confidence in me to hand me the ball for this game is big."
Indeed, it's not an unfamiliar stage, as Hendricks started in both the NLDS and NL Championship Series last year. But he is a different pitcher this time around. There's the experience factor, sure, but Hendricks also enters this postseason with more weapons.
Almost strictly a two-pitch pitcher in 2015, Hendricks has found confidence and success with an increased reliance on his four-seam fastball this year. According to brooksbaseball.net, one of every five pitches Hendricks threw in 2016 was that four-seamer. A year ago, he turned to it 8 percent of the time.
Complementing his sinker-changeup mix with the third pitch, and finding repeatable mechanics along with it, was the springboard for a standout season. Along with tallying 16 wins in his second full season as a member of the Cubs' rotation, Hendricks ranked among the Majors' best with a 0.98 WHIP and .207 opponents' batting average.
"When Kyle's really on, which he's been on most of the season, you see a lot of really well-located fastballs with extraordinary movement," Maddon said. "And then on top of that, [he has] an outstanding changeup, a curveball, and then he's added a four-seam fastball with elevation. He's really made it much more difficult for hitters to narrow him down."
Lining up his rotation to ensure Hendricks started at home was intentional by Maddon, too. Hendricks was his best at Wrigley Field, leading the Cubs to wins in 10 of 15 starts and posting a 1.32 ERA. And in a ballpark where pitchers often become susceptible to the direction of the wind, Hendricks limited opponents to four home runs over 95 1/3 innings.
His ground-ball percentage of 54.7 at home helped in that regard.
"He's a true pitcher," noted Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "You look at other guys who don't have that velocity, they're smart pitchers. They have movement on the ball, and they have great command. He's one of those guys."
The Giants last saw Hendricks in May at San Francisco, just as his four-seam fastball usage began to jump. Hendricks was the tough-luck loser in that start despite allowing one run on three hits over 5 1/3 innings.
As for his postseason resume, it thus far includes a pair of no-decisions in two starts that ended before he could complete five innings. Now, however, Hendricks is positioned -- and ready -- for much more.
"My body feels really good where I'm at, the confidence level, just the pitches I'm making overall," Hendricks said. "My whole game is a lot better this year. So I'm just trying to simplify as much as I can, take the same approach as I have into any other game -- just going out there and trying to make good pitches."