Kyle Hendricks Throws ‘Backbone’ Performance Despite Not Having Best Stuff

You might not believe it from looking at the box score or the final result, but Kyle Hendricks wasn’t really on his game Thursday night in Queens. The righty needed 42 pitches to get through the first two innings and it seemed at times as though the Mets had him on the ropes. However, Hendricks was able to maintain his focus and settle into a groove as the game went on.

“The timing was just a little bit off, but mentally I felt great today,” Hendricks told reporters after the win. “Mentally, I was locked in pitch-to-pitch and focused on just making a good pitch. Even though I was struggling those first couple of innings, I didn’t make any bad pitches or leave any over the middle of the plate.”

Sure enough, he struck out the side in the 3rd on just 13 pitches, then overcame two walks in the 4th by sandwiching them between three grounders. That was the last of the trouble, as Hendricks needed just 16 pitches while facing the minimum over the next two frames before turning the ball over to the bullpen.

It was a much-needed win, not unlike two starts ago in San Francisco when the Cubs had to have their ace play stopper after opening a long series with three losses. While everyone involved would prefer to see the Cubs avoid those situations, Hendricks has proven yet again that he’s up to the task.

“He’s the backbone of our rotation,” David Ross said Thursday. “It’s starting to be that win day that you feel like when he pitches, you’ve got a really good chance to win.”

I mean, that certainly should be the case for any team’s No. 1 starter, let alone one who’s come up big in pressure-packed situations over the years. That wasn’t true early on, though, as Hendricks looked downright bad into early May. He was surrendering homers in bunches and was giving up lots of contact, much of it in the air. Even if the longball is still an issue, the overall execution has gotten a lot better.

“At the beginning of the season, my timing was off; I was late coming out of my glove, so everything was flat,” Hendricks explained. “Everything was flat, it was all up in the zone, and I was leaving a lot of pitches middle. I made those adjustments that I needed to, but it’s a continual process.

“Mentally, it’s kind of calmed down, too. When you don’t trust it physically, you know you don’t trust your stuff, it’s hard going out there mentally to commit to a pitch every time.”

What separates the great pitchers from the good ones isn’t necessarily that they have the best stuff, though that certainly helps. The real key is being able to win even when they’re not at their best, knowing how to get outs and keep their team in the game through sheer force of will.

“Probably not the sharpest you’ve seen him and he doesn’t even give up any runs,” Ross said. “Nice, gutsy performance by Kyle there. We needed that.”

The Cubs are going to keep needing it every fifth day, but there’s an even greater need for the bats to wake up so Hendricks isn’t having to post a skid-stopping W every time out.

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