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Healthy, prepared Hendricks in right spot

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- Kyle Hendricks has never been an Opening Day starter, not even for his Dartmouth team. He's very happy to be slotted second in the Cubs' 2018 rotation between Jon Lester and Yu Darvish.

"If that's happening, it means the goals I've set for myself are coming true," Hendricks said Wednesday. "I'm putting in the work, the results are coming, but I'm so lucky to be in this system and have these guys around."

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MESA, Ariz. -- Kyle Hendricks has never been an Opening Day starter, not even for his Dartmouth team. He's very happy to be slotted second in the Cubs' 2018 rotation between Jon Lester and Yu Darvish.

"If that's happening, it means the goals I've set for myself are coming true," Hendricks said Wednesday. "I'm putting in the work, the results are coming, but I'm so lucky to be in this system and have these guys around."

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Video: Outlook: Hendricks looks to build off big second half

Of course, Hendricks, who made his first Cactus League appearance Wednesday and pitched two innings against the Athletics, did start Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and Game 1 of last year's National League Division Series against the Nationals.

"Let's get another World Series -- who cares about the first game?" Hendricks said laughing. "I'll take the last game. Always."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The good news is that this spring, Hendricks feels as good as he did in '16. Cubs pitchers learned a lot about how to prepare for the next season after winning a World Series and getting off to a sluggish start last year.

"Having such a high on Nov. 1 [in 2016], and coming off of that, you have all the media stuff, and it feels like you have no offseason and all of a sudden you're back in Spring Training," Hendricks said. "It feels like you haven't left baseball, but you're not playing Game 7 anymore. Then it's Game 1 of the season. Just to keep that killer instinct from day one to the end is something we had to learn."

It helps that he's healthy. Last year, Hendricks was sidelined with a sore right hand that the Cubs feel was from too many reps on the side.

"It made sense with me because at that point in the year, my mechanics weren't solid, so my reps were getting higher because I was trying to find it," Hendricks said.

This year, he'll be more careful between starts. On Wednesday, he retired the first two batters he faced, and the A's Jed Lowrie reached on an error by center fielder Albert Almora Jr. Khris Davis then launched a 3-2 fastball onto the left-field berm for his first spring homer and a 2-0 lead. The Cubs answered in the first as Chris Gimenez hit a two-run single and Efren Navarro added a two-run double in the 7-5 win.

Injury update: Third baseman Kris Bryant, who has not been in camp since Monday because of an illness, was feeling better but not ready to play yet.

"He's still a little washed out, but feeling a lot better," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He just needs to start eating; that's what he told me. He just needs to eat to get his strength level back up. I told him, 'Please don't rush it.' I said, 'A couple of years ago, you may have felt compelled to rush it. Just take your time, eat and make sure you feel well.'"

Ben Zobrist, who has been battling back issues since arriving in Arizona, has been taking batting practice and could get into a game early next week.

• New Nationals manager and former Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez brought camels to camp on Wednesday. After all, it's hump day.

"I was very proud of him; very well done," Maddon said. "You would think we would've done that by now, being in the desert."

Video: Maddon on Martinez bringing camels to Nats' camp

Maddon says he once had an ostrich in Angels camp, and the Cubs have had a series of critters, including baby bear cubs, a cheetah, penguins and sloths.

"It's always good to get animals involved in baseball," Maddon said smiling.

He wasn't surprised that his former bench coach was so inspired.

"Davey processes the day pretty well, too, and doesn't get hung up on the minutiae," Maddon said.

Can the Cubs top that?

"I don't know if you can top a camel" Maddon said. "An elephant? Do you have to get something bigger?."

• On Saturday, Maddon and participating players will get their heads shaved to support pediatric cancer research at the fourth annual Respect Bald Event. The event will be held near Field 1 next to Sloan Park, starting at 11 a.m. MST.

A select number of fans can participate by donating $100 to get their heads shaved alongside the players and receive an official "Respect Bald" T-shirt. Fans interested can register on-site on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cubs Charities will donate net proceeds to Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation to help support pediatric cancer research and programs.

Camp battles: Almora led off Wednesday and went 0-for-3 to remain hitless this spring. Almora and Ian Happ have been splitting the leadoff duties so far. Happ is batting .571 in three games, with two leadoff home runs.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Kyle Hendricks