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Can you tell how excited this guy is?

Kyle Hendricks excited about Game 1 start? Excited? OK, just trust him

SHARE Kyle Hendricks excited about Game 1 start? Excited? OK, just trust him
SHARE Kyle Hendricks excited about Game 1 start? Excited? OK, just trust him

Kyle Hendricks was thrilled to learn Wednesday that he’ll start Game 1 of the Cubs’ first-round playoff series against the Washington Nationals on Friday.

You could tell how thrilled just by how he, uh, the way he . . . uh, never mind.

You’ll just have to take his word for it.

“I’m just going to be excited to get out there,” he said, “with the energy that’ll be there in Game 1.”

See?

Trust him. The Cubs do, and that’s all that counts.

“He assimilates his adrenaline in different methods as opposed to other people,” manager Joe Maddon said.

That’s one way to put it. More important, that’s one big reason the Cubs are putting their faith in the cerebral command pitcher with the 88-mph fastball to set a tone in the first postseason series they’ll enter as an underdog since their 2015 wild-card run.

He’s expected to pitch opposite Stephen Strasburg in the 6:30 p.m. game Friday, although Nats manager Dusty Baker has not formally announced his starter.

“He’s just that guy that channels his inner energy so well,” Maddon said of Hendricks. “His focus is so strong, and his mental commitment to himself is so strong. He’s just a different animal.”

Hendricks, who led the majors in ERA last year, also is pitching better than anyone on the starting staff heading into the playoffs.

The right-hander, who beat Clayton Kershaw to clinch the National League pennant and started Game 7 of the World Series last fall, has a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts since returning from a hand injury July 24.

“I think he’s pitching better right now than I’ve seen him at any time last year,” said Maddon, who has last year’s postseason ace, Jon Lester, following Hendricks in his playoff rotation with Jose Quintana and Jake Arrieta scheduled for Games 3 and 4 at home next week.

Lester, the NLCS co-MVP a year ago, struggled coming back from a lat injury in September before finishing with two good starts. Maddon said the more recent injury was a factor in the Game 1 decision.

Because of the additional off day during the series, the Cubs also have the luxury of using either of the first two starters in a potential, decisive Game 5 on regular or extra rest. The bigger decision involved where to slot Arrieta, who was compromised by a right hamstring injury in his two starts back from a 2½-week recovery.

The former Cy Young winner — who won two road games in the World Series last year — gets the call in the game that might not get played.

“We just feel it’s wise to give him the most time to rest his leg before we have to pitch him,” Maddon said.

Meanwhile, Hendricks (7-5) takes the hot hand and a career 2.67 ERA against the Nationals (five starts) into Friday’s game.

He has held the middle of the Nationals’ order — Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon — to a combined 10-for-48 (.208) in his career. And with the Nats a dangerous base-stealing team — specifically, leadoff man Trea Turner — Hendricks also offers the best move to first among the Cub starters. Whatever happens Friday, or next week in a possible Game 5, not even the Cubs envisioned this when they traded Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for a Class A changeup pitcher out of Dartmouth.

“We did bet on his makeup,” team president Theo Epstein said. “That was a primary driver in the trade. We were pretty convinced he would get the most out of what he had and continue to keep learning and adjusting. That part’s come true. But he’s taken it to another level.”

Said Hendricks: “I’m just having fun out there really. I’ve dreamed about this my whole life. There’s so much that goes on, on the outside — the attention and all that, but it really doesn’t matter.

“All that matters is between the lines when you’re out on that mound. That’s what I live for.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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