Hendricks makes 'positive progress' in loss

May 10th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Cubs starter stood with his hands on his hips, staring out to center field after throwing his sixth pitch on Sunday afternoon. Adam Frazier had just flicked an outside offering up the middle for a leadoff single.

It was just that kind of day for Hendricks.

"I felt like I made a lot of good pitches," Hendricks said.

In a 6-5 loss to the Pirates, Hendricks did feature more of the pitch movement and location the Cubs have come to expect from their rotation leader. He created plenty of soft contact -- a Hendricks specialty -- but it did not net the desired results.

Hendricks was coming off his strongest outing of the season on Tuesday, when the righty limited the Dodgers to one run in a seven-inning complete game on the front end of a doubleheader. His line included six runs (four earned) Sunday, but he looked at it as another step forward.

"I think it's still progress. It's still on the right track," Hendricks said. "I'm still getting better action on my pitches. I'm getting to the bottom of the zone better. Threw some good curveballs and good changeups today. At least I have a chance going out there.

"I feel like I can trust my stuff more so. So, yeah, I would say progress, still positive progress in the right direction. I just have to stick with it, keep making good pitches and things will turn around."

There is evidence to support that stance, too.

Four of the Pirates' hits had an exit velocity under 74 mph, which was tied for the most such hits allowed by a pitcher in an MLB game this season, per Statcast. Overall, Hendricks allowed an average exit velocity of 79.5 mph (83.5 mph on average for the nine hits).

The average exit velocity of 80.2 mph against Hendricks' sinker was his best showing in a start this season. The changeup? That had a 75.2 mph average exit velo against the Dodgers on Tuesday, and a 75.5 mph mark against the Pirates. It had an 84.7 mph average in the previous five starts.

"He did a really nice job. A ton of soft contact falling in," manager David Ross said. "It felt like the ground balls were where we weren't. We didn't play our cleanest defense behind him, but a lot of soft contact fell in. Wind blowing in. It's a tricky positioning thing. I thought Kyle threw the ball fine."

To Ross' point, a throwing error by shortstop Ildemaro Vargas in the first contributed to Pittsburgh's four-run outburst in the inning. In the third inning, third baseman Matt Duffy misplayed a ball that also went in the book as an error, scoring Wilmer Difo from third.

Difo had a soft two-run single in the first that came with a .130 expected batting average, per Statcast. One batter later, Todd Frazier beat the shift with a grounder through the infield and into right (.060 expected batting average).

There was an Erik González single in the third that soared just beyond the reach of second baseman David Bote. Ka'ai Tom had a ground-rule double that he sliced up the left-field line, where it bounced into the stands.

"Definitely frustrating," Hendricks said of the nature of the hits he surrendered. "But, you have to somehow not look at the results like that. I have to be immersed in the process right now, just focus on each pitch I'm making."

There has been definite progress in that way, and that is important for a Cubs team that has been waiting for its rotation to find a rhythm and begin working deeper into games with more regularity.

This performance by Hendricks -- one that included three strikeouts and one walk in five innings -- gave him a 3.33 ERA in 27 innings against teams other than Atlanta. The righty's season ERA (6.23) is bloated by the 14 earned runs allowed in two turns (7 2/3 innings) against the Braves.

Hendricks' showing against the Dodgers helped Chicago turn the page on a 2-7 road trip with a 5-1 ledger on this homestand.

"Kyle threw the ball really nice," Ross said. "Balls were down. Off the end. Ahead in the count a lot. All those things point to good signs for him."