Hendricks' trip at 1B reignites DH discussion
Scare turns into amusing moment, but Cubs' skipper rethinking previous stance
Kyle Hendricks had not stepped into a batter's box in a Major League game in 540 days when he stood in on Wednesday night at Sloan Park. The Cubs pitcher quickly had two strikes against him with San Diego's Chris Paddack on the mound.
And then Hendricks slashed a hard line drive to right field.
"I was impressed on a lot of levels," Cubs manager David Ross said on Thursday morning.
That initial reaction by Ross was swiftly overtaken by fear as Hendricks tumbled to the ground in foul territory, following a brief collision with Padres first baseman Jake Cronenworth. Hendricks was fine, and even smiling when he took his place on first with a single, but the designated hitter debate was once again ignited.
Ross played parts of 13 of his 15 Major League seasons in the National League, and the former catcher remembers not wanting the DH to infiltrate the Senior Circuit. After spending his post-playing days in a broadcast booth, and then 2020 as a first-year manager with a DH in his lineup, Ross' thoughts on the topic have evolved.
And Ross' desire to have the DH back in the NL were strengthened again when he saw his rotation leader on the ground in the second inning of Wednesday's 8-2 win.
"I think I threw up in my mask there for a second," said Ross, who was able to joke around due to Hendricks walking away just fine. "Immediately like, I'm panicked a little bit, like just, 'Please, get up,' kind of thoughts going on in my head."
Hendricks did not have any plate appearances last spring before MLB entered into its shut-down period, which was followed by the arrival of the DH for the abbreviated '20 season. The pitcher last hit on Sept. 24, 2019, against the Pirates. His last hit came on Aug. 28 in a road game vs. the Mets.
The liner off Hendricks' bat was quickly gloved by Padres right fielder Wil Myers, who came up firing to Cronenworth at first. As Hendricks hustled up the line, he had visions of teammates giving him a hard time about being thrown out in that fashion. Hendricks remembered the razzing Trevor Cahill once took for a similar moment.
So, Hendricks hit the base and did his best to maneuver around Cronenworth, falling to his right side in the process.
"I talked to him for a second," Ross said. "I was like, 'You realize you can just pull up. It's OK if you get out.' And he goes, 'No way I'm coming back to the dugout with [my] teammates, getting thrown out from right field. I saw Cahill do that, and he never lived it down.'
"So, we had a good laugh about that after I knew he was all right."
In a chat with media in Arizona on Wednesday night, Hendricks was able to keep that sense of humor.
"First base must have moved on me or something since the last time I was over there," Hendricks told reporters. "Three steps before the base, it's either, I'm out or I'm running into him. The competitiveness took over."
Last season, there were only three pitchers in the Majors who registered a plate appearance with the universal DH in effect. One was Cubs righty Alec Mills, who pinch-hit for Craig Kimbrel on Aug. 6 in Kansas City.
"It's kind of a nice brag," Mills quipped earlier this spring.
Mills was instructed not to swing and struck out.
All kidding aside, Mills said he spent no time over the offseason even thinking about batting. After having the DH in 2020, the Cubs righty assumed it was going to be a fixture in the rules. It caught Mills by surprise when he found out bats would be required again, and he and the rest of the pitchers around baseball have been getting used to bunting and batting practice again this spring.
"At the end of the day, I'm being paid to pitch," Mills said. "I think hitting is just a bonus. But that does not mean that I will not work at it and try to get better. We are in the lineup, and we can help."
Ross said his years playing with the Red Sox -- and getting to see David Ortiz terrorize baseballs as a DH every night -- started changing his mind about having the role in the NL. Last season's experience only solidified Ross' hope that it returns after 2021.
"It's weird to see them up there," Ross said. "You know, I think some of the pitchers like it, so I understand that. It's just one of those -- it's just hard to wrap your brain around. But, you know, that's the rules we're playing with."
Ross has joked this spring that pitchers think they are cleanup hitters, if you ask them.
That made Mills laugh.
"Every pitcher thinks that they can be a hitter," he said. "At the same time, I'm a realist. I've been in the box and it is not easy -- that is for sure. It's something that's fun, and I'm looking forward to it. But, at the same time, it's going to be a task."