Cubs go with Hendricks in Wild Card opener

September 30th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager David Ross trusted to set the tone for this season as the Opening Day starter. Now, the manager is handing the ball to the veteran right-hander to open the postseason.

On Tuesday, Ross announced that Hendricks will be Chicago's starter against the Marlins in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series on Wednesday (1 p.m. CT on ABC). That sets National League Cy Young Award contender Yu Darvish up to start in Game 2 on Thursday.

"I really feel like I've got two aces," Ross said prior to Tuesday's team workout at Wrigley Field. "Kyle's resume, we talked a lot about when we talked about giving him the ball to start the season. What he's been through in his career and the stages he's been on and the way he's performed, I think it's really easy [to give him the ball]. I think it's very comforting from my seat when he takes the ball on any stage."

Ross confirmed that veteran lefty Jon Lester would start Game 3 on Friday, if the best-of-three series reached that point.

Hendricks started his campaign with a nine-inning shutout against the Brewers on July 24, helping the NL Central-champion Cubs start their 13-3 run out of the gates this season. The Professor was then a steady force for the rotation, posting a 2.88 ERA over a dozen starts for Chicago.

"I'm really pumped that it's me and him going the first two games," Hendricks said. "It's a huge honor for me to get the nod from Rossy for Game 1, but at the end of the day, we all know what Yu's done this year. He's our ace. He's the guy. He's been dominant all year long. So, really, if this was a one-game-playoff kind of thing, he would be the guy."

Only Texas' Lance Lynn and Colorado's Germán Márquez logged more innings than Hendricks, who led the Cubs with 81 1/3 frames and finished with 64 strikeouts compared to just eight walks. Hendricks' 2.5% walk rate was tied with Seattle's Marco Gonzales for the lowest mark among qualified MLB pitchers.

Hendricks also ended the season as Chicago's hottest arm, posting a 1.45 ERA in five September starts, in which he worked into the eighth inning four times. Hendricks was the only pitcher in the Majors this season to record at least eight innings in three starts.

In his career, Hendricks has turned in a 2.98 ERA in 11 appearances (10 starts) on the postseason stage. He last started for the Cubs in October against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the 2017 NL Championship Series, when he was outdueled by Darvish. Hendricks also famously started Game 7 of the '16 World Series against Cleveland.

One factor behind picking Hendricks for Game 1 was that the righty has not started since Wednesday, meaning it would have been a week's worth of rest if he were pushed to the second game. Now, Hendricks will pitch on six days of rest, and Darvish will have five days of rest ahead of Game 2.

"There's a lot of reasons that we could go into it," Ross said. "But it really is just as simple as that."

Worth noting
• Infielder David Bote finished the regular season with a team-leading 29 RBIs for the Cubs. One of the reasons for that surprising development was the fact that Bote posted a .968 OPS and a team-high 18 RBIs with two outs.

"The RBIs or run production, you need guys on base for that," Bote said Tuesday. "And so, my teammates getting on base and me getting those situations, there's just opportunistic times in those situations. And you love those. You want those times."

• Utility man Ildemaro Vargas (10-day injured list, right hamstring) is doing better and "in the picture" for the Wild Card Series roster, according to Ross. The Cubs are required to announce their roster for the first round on Wednesday morning.

• Righty Tyler Chatwood (10-day IL, right forearm) was scheduled to throw off a mound again during Tuesday's team workout, but the pitcher remains unlikely to be included as part of the Wild Card Series roster.

"I went to bed last night and I had to keep reminding myself, 'We're not playing tomorrow.' I was so excited. And I woke up today and I keep telling people, it feels like Christmas morning this year. I don't think I enjoyed it as much in '18. I don't know if I knew how to or whatever in the Wild Card Game in '18, but the last couple days have just been so enjoyable. I just am really anticipating just enjoying this time and kind of relishing in the moments that we have." -- Bote