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Hendricks looks to build on strong finish to '18

@MLBastian
February 20, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Kyle Hendricks took a mound at the Cubs' complex on Wednesday morning, still wearing the team's home whites with blue pinstripes following the chaos of photo day in camp. He worked methodically through a bullpen session, while high-speed cameras and a pitch-tracking system measured every movement. Hendricks

MESA, Ariz. -- Kyle Hendricks took a mound at the Cubs' complex on Wednesday morning, still wearing the team's home whites with blue pinstripes following the chaos of photo day in camp. He worked methodically through a bullpen session, while high-speed cameras and a pitch-tracking system measured every movement.

Hendricks was not concerned with all the data being transmitted to the laptop in the hands of a staffer behind him. All of that is for the analytics department to dissect. Right now, the Cubs starter is focused solely on trying to maintain the feeling that he found in the second half last season. He spent all offseason doing everything in his power to cling to it, too.

"Going into the offseason, you don't touch a baseball for months. You don't throw," Hendricks said. "So, I incorporated a lot of mirror work, which I normally wouldn't do, just to keep the same kind of sensations and same feelings going. I think it helped a lot."

Hendricks does not consume himself with data when it comes to breaking down his mechanics or pitches. He appreciated the work done behind the scenes by the Cubs' pitching group, which now has Tommy Hottovy at the top of the food chain as pitching coach. Last year, Hottovy served as the team's run-prevention coordinator, assisting with scouting reports and breaking down the numbers.

While Hendricks felt off with his mechanics in the early months last year, Hottovy went to work on finding a solution and helped the pitcher identify a few issues. Hendricks said things start to break down if he collapses rather than remains tall over the rubber -- an issue that impacts balance. Another problem is becoming too rotational in his throwing motion.

All of that can add up to an impacted release point, which was an issue early on last season for Hendricks. The right-hander said he does not need an Edgertronic camera or Rapsodo unit to let him know that something is wrong, but he has appreciated how the technology can help find a fix like in 2018.

"Honestly, I enjoy it. I don't look at it, though, necessarily," Hendricks said. "But I really like it for that group behind the scenes -- the pitching infrastructure -- they look at all my data. They look at my arm slot, where everything's at, and they'll come to me if anything is seen out of whack."

What Hendricks wants to capture is how he felt from July on, when he posted a 2.78 ERA over 107 innings (17 starts). Over his last eight starts, the precision-based righty had a 1.66 ERA with 38 strikeouts, eight walks and a .219 opponents' average across 54 1/3 innings. That was more like the pitcher who led the National League with a 2.13 ERA in 2016.

In his last three June starts last summer, Hendricks posted an 8.16 ERA with more walks (10) than strikeouts (nine) while in the midst of trying to fix the problem. By season's end, he had trimmed his overall ERA to 3.44 over 199 frames.

"In the first half, we were searching and we talked a lot and we broke down a lot of video together," Hendricks said. "There were a few differences that we saw, for sure. But then it's how do you take that information and translate it into a feeling when you're out there? So it took some time, for sure."

And that process included a few delivery workouts in front of a mirror over the winter in an effort to stay on the right path.

"Once the feeling is there, it's hard to explain," Hendricks said, "then it's locked in."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.