Is Kyle Hendricks a No. 1-quality starter? Maddon says not yet

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Kyle Hendricks got some pretty important work done last fall, in case anyone didn’t noticed, but did that cement his No. 1 starter quality? Cubs manager Joe Maddon says not necessarily. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

PEORIA, Ariz. — If it walks like a No. 1 starter, swims like a No. 1 starter and quacks like a No. 1 starter, let’s just go ahead and agree it’s a No. 1 starter. Right?

Not in the case of the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks. Not in the opinion of manager Joe Maddon.

“When you’re looking for that guy,” Maddon said, “that guy needs to show it over a period of time.

Hendricks was 16-8 with a best-in-baseball 2.13 ERA last season. He beat the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in the NLCS clincher. He outpitched the Indians’ Corey Kluber in Game 7 of the World Series.

What does a guy have to do to get some “No. 1” respect around here — accomplish all that again?

“I would say if you saw him somehow duplicate what he did last year, absolutely,” Maddon said.

Maddon believes a “slight regression,” at the least, on Hendricks’ part is likely just because his 2016 numbers were off-the-charts good. But the 27-year-old Hendricks isn’t wired to think that way. He doesn’t really think about numbers at all.

It isn’t just talk when Hendricks says he’s about commanding his pitches and thinking one step ahead of the hitter, and let the numbers fall where they may. It’s entirely how he approaches the game, and what makes him so good.

And here’s some great, if unsurprising, news: Hendricks has picked up where he left off. He has pitched five scoreless innings, including three on Friday, thus far in Cactus League action and is locating his changeup and fastball beautifully.

When he has those two pitches working, all’s right in the world.

“All my pitches last year had depth, had angle, and I was hitting all my spots,” Hendricks said. “So that’s really my focus now, making sure all my pitches are down in the zone, with good depth, and I’m seeing it so far. So I think I’m on the right track.”

NOTES: Center fielder Albert Almora Jr. has a list of things he wants to get better at this season, and on that list is, well, everything. “I’d be lying to you if I said there’s just one thing,” he said. “I’m a baseball junkie. I like getting better at every aspect of my game. It might seem like that’s just the right answer to say, but it really is what I’m really focused on — everything in the game. I feel like the day I get complacent in one aspect of the game is the day I start going downhill.”

• Cubs minor-league outfielder John Andreoli won a game for surging Team Italy Thursday night with a ninth-inning hit to beat Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. “I’m happy for him,” Maddon said. “He’s such a good kid. He works so hard. He cares so much.” Andreoli likely will start the season at AAA Iowa.

• All-important update: Maddon’s TV watching these days consists of CNN and Fox News (both “pertinent,” he said) and — thank you, Netflix — “The Office,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.


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