Cubs manager David Ross names Kyle Hendricks the Opening Day starter
Veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to take the ball on Opening Day for the third straight year.
MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs’ pitching staff has seen plenty of turnover in recent years. Just ask left-hander Drew Smyly, who made one appearance in the Cubs’ minor-league system in 2018 after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“Kyle’s still holding it down,” he said.
That phrase sums up right-hander Kyle Hendricks’ value to the Cubs in a variety of contexts. And Saturday it rang true as manager David Ross named Hendricks the Opening Day starter for the third year in a row.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Hendricks said, “just No. 1 for Rossy to make that decision and have the trust in me to give me the ball. It was amazing the last two years.”
Hendricks is one of only three 2016 World Series holdovers on the roster and the only pitcher from that championship team. His career has been marked by consistency.
He landed with the Cubs as a prospect in 2012, traded by the Rangers as part of the package for righty Ryan Dempster. Since then, Hendricks has built his whole major-league career in Chicago.
The year the Cubs won the World Series, Hendricks had the best ERA in the National League (2.13), but the finesse pitcher came in third in Cy Young voting behind Max Scherzer and teammate Jon Lester.
Despite that early success, Hendricks didn’t get his first Opening Day start until 2020, when he threw a shutout against the Brewers. Ross has handed him the ball each Opening Day since.
“He continues to evolve as a pitcher,” Ross said. “But the steadiness of who he is and his routine, that’s just something that you learn to love and can rely on.
‘‘Reliability, consistency [are] the things that make up major-league players that are playing this game for a long time, and Kyle has a lot of those attributes.
“So I know he’s going to be prepared, I know he’s going to be ready and I know he’s going to handle the moment as best as he possibly can or as anybody could.”
Long before Ross announced his choice, Marcus Stroman, Hendricks’ new rotation mate, was lobbying for him to be the Opening Day starter on Twitter and when asked about it this spring.
“Just because of his career, how unbelievable he’s been in the playoffs, his résumé speaks for itself,” said Stroman, who is lined up to pitch the second game of the opening series against the Brewers next week. “So [Hendricks is] the guy who should be handed the ball each and every Opening Day as long as he’s here.”
Hendricks’ trademark consistency was shaken last season, when he had a 4.77 ERA, by far the worst of his career.
His 2021 Opening Day start was the polar opposite of the year before. He threw only three innings, allowing three runs, in the Cubs’ loss to the Pirates.
During the offseason and into the spring, Hendricks has focused on the angle of his pitches, establishing the fastball down in the strike zone.
The results have been uneven. Hendricks gave up four home runs to the Diamondbacks on Friday in his last Cactus League start, but he’s more interested in executing his plan and honing the shape of his pitches to avoid a repeat of his 2021 struggles.
“This year, I just want to definitely come in and be aggressive, attack, get after it, see what happens,” Hendricks said.
That’s the tone he wants to set for the rotation from Day 1.
The staff has gone through plenty of changes in recent years, but at the top of the rotation, the Cubs are counting on Hendricks to hold it down.