Cubs’ Hendricks ready for next big-game start — if he isn’t overlooked

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Kyle Hendricks will pitch for the Cubs against the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS if the series returns to Washington.

Kyle Hendricks has eight postseason starts, all with the Cubs, in his big-league career. That’s the same number as Jon Lester has as a Cub, and one more than Jake Arrieta has. It’s as many as Kerry Wood and Rick Sutcliffe had combined.

Eight starts. Total earned runs allowed: nine. ERA: 1.98.

Defeats: only one. That came in Game 2 of last year’s National League Championship Series when Hendricks gave up the lone run in a 1-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Hendricks was marvelous in that game. Alas, he wasn’t perfect. So sue him.

On a day when rain washed away Game 4 of the NL Division Series at Wrigley Field — it’ll be played Wednesday at 3:08 p.m. instead — the Nationals were still talking about how great Hendricks was in Game 1, a 3-0 Cubs victory. The right-hander threw seven scoreless innings at Nationals Park, because that’s just the sort of thing he does at this time of year.

“I think the best thing about him is his ball has action so late,” Daniel Murphy said. “And you have to kind of pick your poison: Do I want to pick a spot and swing and hope that it does what I want it to do? [Because] if it doesn’t, you know, he may get my bat. He may break it. He does a really good job of working both sides of the plate, up, down, keeping you off-balance.”

In short: Whenever you can send Hendricks out there in a playoff game, you have to feel mighty good about it.

And yet, one has to wonder as the Cubs head into Game 4: If they eliminate the Nationals — as they should, with Arrieta opposing Tanner Roark — will Hendricks, the next man up in the rotation, start Game 1 of the NLCS in Los Angeles?

Or will manager Joe Maddon choose instead to bump Hendricks — merely the surest thing on this team — in order to open the NLCS with Lester on the hill?

I suspect the answer will be the latter. Lester was the team’s No. 1 heading into last year’s postseason. He was brought here to fill that role. The Cubs pay him like a king to take on that responsibility and pressure.

I even wondered: If this series ends up returning to Washington for a Game 5, will Maddon rip the ball from Hendricks and hand it to Lester, who’d be on full rest in that scenario?

“[We’ll] probably go with Kyle right now,” Maddon said. “We haven’t decided that yet, but Kyle’s in line to do that.”

Not exactly a full-throated denial, but let’s assume Hendricks is indeed our Game 5 guy. The question remains: Shouldn’t he be the guy every time — bar none — his turn in the rotation comes up?

Hendricks beat Kershaw — revenge! — in last year’s NLCS clincher. He pitched wonderfully in Game 7 of the World Series (and might’ve easily gotten the victory had Maddon not foolishly pulled him after 4 2/3 innings). Last Friday, Hendricks outdueled Stephen Strasburg as the Cubs won Game 1.

Big-game tested? Like nobody’s business.

“Yeah, I think it helps a lot,” he said Tuesday. “You have to rely on your experience and having been in those situations. You know what the atmosphere is going to be like. You know what the crowd is going to be like. All those external factors, if you can kind of keep that under control, you know the pitching part. You know what to do once you get out on the mound.”

And yet here we are, left trying to understand why anyone would have a shred of doubt about him. Does he feel overlooked?

“Maybe a little bit,” he said. “I mean . . . it’s kind of how it always has been for me. I’ve just been an under-the-radar kind of guy. It doesn’t bother me at all.”

Yeah, well, that makes one of us.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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