Hendricks' shutout nets Ross 1st win as skip
CHICAGO -- Cubs manager David Ross emerged from the third-base dugout in the ninth inning on Friday night, making the walk to the mound to chat with pitcher Kyle Hendricks. The righty was one out from an Opening Day shutout, but over the century mark in pitches.
Ross just wanted to deliver a message to Hendricks.
"You've got this last guy. Go get him and finish it."
"That gave me all the confidence in the world," Hendricks said.
On a night that was already one for the history books, Hendricks added a few more footnotes in a 3-0 victory over the rival Brewers at Wrigley Field. He became the first Cubs pitcher to spin a nine-inning shutout in a season opener since Bill Bonham in 1974 and the first Major League pitcher to do so since Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw against the Giants in 2013.
When Ross retreated from the mound in the ninth, the players in the dugout began roaring, clapping their hands and pounding the padded railing in celebration. Even after a three-month hiatus and a three-week Summer Camp, Hendricks positioned himself to handle the 103 pitches he needed against Milwaukee.
Ross laughed when asked about the players' reaction to his decision.
"They said the only reason I was going out there was to get a cheer," Ross said. "So, they gave it to me on the way back. There's no fans in there to [yell], 'Let him stay in.' I just wanted to go check his pulse."
Hendricks was fine. In signature fashion, the righty used his sinker to induce a game-ending groundout off the bat of Keston Hiura. The Professor ended with nine strikeouts and no walks, and allowed only three singles (all to ninth-spot hitter Orlando Arcia).
"I will talk to him a little bit about Arcia and trying to get him out," Ross quipped.
Overall, Hendricks featured 47 sinkers, 33 changeups, 12 four-seamers and 11 curveballs. The righty generated 19 swinging strikes, which marked his second most in an outing in his career, per Statcast. His only better showing in that regard was on June 4 last year, when he had 21 whiffs against Colorado.
"I basically could've sat down out there," said center fielder Ian Happ, who launched a two-run homer off Brandon Woodruff in the third.
Three times, Hendricks slipped into a three-ball count. Slugger Christian Yelich worked a 3-1 hitter's count in the fourth, but later struck out. Omar Narváez found himself in a full count in the eighth, but grounded out to end an eight-pitch battle (Hendricks had three innings of eight pitches or fewer, total). Yelich also worked to a full count in the ninth, but grounded out.
"How unbelievable was Hendricks -- oh my gosh," Woodruff said. "Sitting there watching him, it’s really impressive how he can manipulate the ball, especially with the two different types of changeups. It's really impressive to watch him."
The curveball, in particular, was an impressive part of Hendricks' gem.
That breaking pitch has been a work in progress for years for Hendricks, who knew he needed an additional weapon to pair with the fastballs and changeup. The righty said he continued to hone that offering during the down period and arrived at Summer Camp confident in using that offering in any count.
Against the Brewers, catcher Willson Contreras obliged and Hendricks mixed in the curve effectively, especially in the middle portion of the game (six of 11 came in innings four through six). Two of Hendricks' nine strikeouts came via the curve, too.
"The fact that Willy's calling it," Hendricks said, "He's going to it for me, gives me more confidence. Yeah, I've put a lot of work in on it and like I've said, it's the best it's felt."
It was a performance similar to May 3 last year, when Hendricks turned in an 81-pitch shutout against the Cardinals. Then again, that was not on Opening Day, and not a game coming amidst a global pandemic that has necessitated important safety measures, including playing in an empty ballpark.
"It's got to be a hard Opening Day draw for him," said Anthony Rizzo, who homered in the eighth inning. "You're so amped up. And he's just out there hitting the corners and going to work and going to school like he does."
Heading into the Opening Day assignment -- the first such honor of Hendricks' career -- the pitcher downplayed the outing as just another game.
After Friday's victory, which was the first of Ross' managerial career, Hendricks admitted that the game took on a heightened importance for him now.
"That's what means the most to me, honestly. I love that guy," Hendricks said. "And we just love playing for him. We've been waiting for this moment. We were excited in spring before this all started, just the vibe and energy he brings every day.
"Yeah, I told him I was going to go out there and get him his first win."
And Ross let Hendricks finish the job.
"I know how much trust he's put in me already," said the pitcher. "And that meant so much."