Kyle Hendricks Being Allowed to Finish CGSO Sets Tone for Season

If you were looking for a tangible example of how David Ross would be different from Joe Maddon, you got it Friday night. Kyle Hendricks going deep into the game at all was the first sign, then came the mound visit with two outs in the 9th and the starter at 102 pitches. Rather than overmanaging out of fear that Hendricks might fall apart, Ross offered a vote of confidence and headed back to the dugout.

One pitch later, a Keston Hiura grounder to short finished off the Cubs’ first complete-game shutout on Opening Day since 1974.

Meanwhile, out in Oakland, Angels starter Andrew Heaney was given the hook after 67 pitches over 4.2 shutout innings because his manager wanted to get a righty-righty matchup with Noe Ramirez against Stephen Piscotty. In the 5th inning of a 1-1 game. Sound familiar? Ramirez ended up walking two batters to load the bases before getting a pop-up to escape.

The game went to extras, thus becoming the first regular-season contest to employ runners on second to open the 10th inning. After the Angels could do nothing in the top half, the A’s loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch and walk from righty Hansel Robles. Again looking for a handedness advantage, Maddon went to lefty Hoby Milner to face the dangerous Matt Olson.

One pitch. Grand slam. Game over.

I’m not trying to make this a celebration of the fact that Maddon’s no longer on the North Side of Chicago, but…actually, yeah, I kind of am trying to do that. For all his excellent traits, that Maddoning was maddening. You could say Hendricks made it really easy for his new manager to make the right decision(s) Friday night, but he did the same for his old manager without always getting the benefit of the doubt.

“That gave me all the confidence in the world,” Hendricks said of Ross coming out to tell him to finish it.

Something tells me he had a little confidence going already, especially in the curveball that he worked hard to perfect during the shutdown. Though it’ll never surpass the changeup as Hendricks’ go-to secondary, the curve works best as a way to keep hitters off-balance when he works through the lineup a second time. As Jordan Bastian noted, six of the 11 curves Hendricks threw came in the middle three innings.

“The fact that Willy’s calling it, he’s going to it for me, gives me more confidence,” Hendricks said after the game. “Yeah, I’ve put a lot of work in on it and like I’ve said, it’s the best it’s felt.”

So he’ll locate the fastball up and pull the string on the change for a few innings, then start bending the curve once hitters think they’ve got him figured out. After they’ve gotten a good look at the breaking ball, it’s back to the original combo. Hendricks seems to be dotting the change high in the zone a little more frequently as well, a strategy that — like the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang — could be dangerous for other pitchers. That’s why deception and timing are so important.

Faith is important as well, whether it’s Hendricks trusting his stuff or Ross trusting Hendricks. One game does not a season make, nor does one decision define a manager, but seeing how Friday’s season-opening win played out makes me feel pretty damn good about the future.

Back to top button