Hendricks finds feel in masterful 11-K start

Righty in command of fastball, changeup over 7 scoreless innings

April 20th, 2019

CHICAGO -- A few hours before took the mound on Friday afternoon, Cubs manager Joe Maddon expressed confidence in the pitcher’s ability to correct his rough start to the season. Maddon explained that it was all about feel and rhythm, and Hendricks was closing in on finding both.

"It's a feel thing," Maddon said prior to the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the D-backs. "And some guys are consistently that way. Once they find it, head's up."

Hendricks' search ended on the Wrigley Field mound against Arizona.

Over seven scoreless innings, Hendricks shaved his season ERA down to a respectable 3.54 after taking the mound with a bloated 5.40 mark.The right-hander focused on his changeup -- an offering that has tripped up D-backs hitters all season -- and piled up 11 strikeouts against a pair of walks. Arizona managed only three singles against Hendricks.

With one additional shutout frame from Chicago’s bullpen after Hendricks' effort, the Cubs pieced together a streak of 31 consecutive scoreless innings. Per STATS, that marked the club's longest such run since another 31-inning streak from July 4-8, 1976. The D-backs struck for a run in the ninth to bring an end to the Cubs' latest string of zeros.

"All the things we've been working on finally clicked," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "A lot of times with Kyle, he's always right there. He's always really close. And all it takes is one or two pitches to click and for him find that mechanic, that arm slot, and everything kind of falls into place and he gets rolling."

Here's a look at what went into Hendricks' performance.

Establishing the fastball

Hendricks does not obsess over mechanics between or during his starts. The right-hander knows when things feel right, and he makes adjustments based on the movement he is seeing on his pitches. Through his first three outings, Hendricks had a hard time getting consistent depth with his sinker.

The pitch would stay flat, miss over the middle or run too far off the edge. Against Arizona, Hendricks finally harnessed the pitch.

"I just used my fastball a lot better -- kind of like I was talking about," Hendricks said. "Fastball command and just establishing it early. Everything else kind of worked off that, and it just had good action today. I kept it down and made a lot of good pitches."

Hendricks got 20 called strikes with his sinker after having 27 out of 112 fastballs in his previous three starts combined. It marked the ninth time since 2015 that the righty had at least 20 called strikes with the pitch and only the second instance in the ‘18-19 seasons combined. The D-backs recorded two singles off Hendricks' sinker, but the righty sidestepped any further harm.

"We talked about using his fastball on the corners," Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. "Hitting the right spots, keeping it down, because that's his game. He can't leave it up in the zone. He did well today, attacking the zone. Both corners."

Changing things up

As Hendricks labored to command his fastball in his first three turns this season, one result was diminished effectiveness with his changeup. Against the D-backs, the two pitches played exceptionally well together.

"Everything plays off the fastball," Hottovy said. "He tunnels so well with the fastball and the changeup looks just like a fastball -- it's basically just a slower version of it. And his ability to command the fastball makes that changeup just that much better. I think you just saw a much more confident, comfortable guy today."

It helped that Arizona has not done well against changeups this season. Entering Friday's game, the D-backs had a .273 slugging percentage against changeups (well below the MLB average of .379). Against right-handed changeups, specifically, Arizona had a .259 slugging percentage (compared to .386 across MLB).

Hendricks fired his changeup 30 times and generated eight swinging strikes with the pitch. He had 10 swinging strikes within 85 changeups in his first three outings combined. After giving up a .455 average (15-for-33) and .697 slugging percentage on the changeup in those previous starts, Hendricks held the D-backs to an 0-for-10 showing with six strikeouts via that offering.

"The changeup was working perfectly today," Contreras said.

Hendricks felt he was making incremental progress in his prior outings, and Friday's results backed that up in a big way for the pitcher.

"I didn't think it was going to come this quick," Hendricks said with a smile. "So to go out and make that many good pitches, yeah, it helps the confidence a lot. And it solidifies the things we've been working on. I just told the guys, 'This is just one good day. Tomorrow we've got to get right back at it with another good work day, and hopefully get on a roll here.'"