The Cubs’ starting rotation has had its fair share of ups and downs. The lack of consistency has led to concerns over whether it can produce in a full season. After trading starter Yu Darvish, the Cubs clearly had a void at the top of their rotation.
While right-hander Kyle Hendricks isn’t the same pitcher as Darvish, he’s taken it upon himself to be the lead dog in the rotation, and it’s showing.
Before the season began, Hendricks knew he’d have to be that guy. And after one of the worst stretches of his career to open the season, he’s been one of the National League’s best starting pitchers.
The Cubs needed a strong outing from him on Tuesday and Hendricks delivered, tossing six shutout innings in a 7-1 win over the Indians.
Hendricks is on a tear right now, and his performance over the last two months has given the rotation a significant boost. Not only has he been the leader of the staff, he has put on a clinic in consistency.
“I really just want to be that consistent guy every day,” Hendricks said. “Every time I take the ball, so my teammates know what they’re gonna get. Whatever you want to call that, that’s just really my focus. So going out there being consistent and giving them a chance to win every time. And so we’ve been doing a good job of that lately. But it never ends, you gotta keep on it.”
Not many have been able to solve Hendricks over the last two months, and while Cleveland made him work with several grinding at-bats, not even those could take him off his A-game.
Hendricks scattered four hits over six innings against the Indians, allowing just one batter to reach second base on a double in the third inning. He struck out five and did not issue a walk.
“This is what we’ve come to expect from Kyle,” manager David Ross said. “It really is a quality outing. Every time out, throwing strikes. The pace of the game is phenomenal, getting ahead of hitters, knowing how to work out of jams and traffic.
“He’s been the guy that’s stepped up and given us a nice outing, so that’s what we expect from him and he expects out of himself, and it’s very comforting when he takes the mound as a manager.”
Hendricks is 8-0 with a 2.25 ERA over his last eight starts. He’s had a quality start in every appearance since May 9, and he’s dropped his season ERA to 3.84.
He always was going to be an important cog in the Cubs’ rotation this season, but Hendricks’ recent stretch of dominance puts a spotlight on the rest of the starters.
While the Cubs know what they’ll get out of Hendricks with each start, finding out what they’ll get from the rest of the rotation remains the challenge.
As the first half slowly winds to a close and the trade deadline continues to get closer, the Cubs are going to need someone to step up and be Hendricks’ running mate, or they’re going to have to find one elsewhere.
“I think he just sets a great example, and that’s what an ace is supposed to do,” Ross said. “The guy at the top of the rotation is supposed to set that example, and he’s been doing it a long time. ... The good teams I’ve been on, those guys [in the rotation] try to match each other, and when you’ve got a guy at the top of the rotation that goes out and does that on a consistent basis, it creates an expectation for the rest of the group. ... He’s a great example at the top for our rotation.”