Kyle Hendricks took another step forward in 2016 and established himself as one of the best starters in the National League. Concerns about his strikeout rate in 2015 were erased as he improved his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 10 percent, while maintaining the pinpoint control he's shown throughout his time as a professional. While he does not overpower opposing hitters, Hendricks locates his offerings exceptionally well, and he consistently works ahead in the count by pounding the strike zone early (his 68.6 percent first-strike rate tied him with Johnny Cueto as the MLB leader among qualified starters). His changeup continues to be his best pitch, and that offering generated the fourth-most swinging strikes among all changeups league-wide last season. Even though his skills appear to be stable, Hendricks' ERA seems almost certain to rise, but he could stay below the 3.00 mark if the defense behind him continues to rank as the league's best.
Hendricks (2-1) tossed six scoreless innings against the Pirates on Tuesday, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out three in a 1-0 win. Last year's spectacular 2.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP were obviously unrepeatable, but Hendricks started this season with an across-the-board statistical decline over his first three starts. This was a major improvement, but still, Hendricks' fastball averaged only 85.9 mph, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago -- a season high, but still a huge decline from last year's 87.8. Hendricks has never been mistaken for a fireballer, but this is quite low even for him. Still, at least he's on a positive trend line, and his past results have given us reason to believe that he'll continue rounding into form.
Hendricks allowed four runs on four hits (two home runs) and four walks while striking out four batters during Wednesday's win over Milwaukee. This was the first start of Hendricks' career that he allowed two home runs and four walks in the same outing, so all things considered, he was probably lucky to escape without a loss. After turning in a National League-best 2.13 ERA last season, the pendulum has likely swung too far in the other direction, as Hendricks now sports a 6.19 mark through his first three 2017 outings.
Hendricks (1-1) allowed three runs on six hits and two walks across five innings in Friday's 4-2 loss to the Pirates. He struck out three. Hendricks looked relatively comfortable and allowed just one run through five innings, but he allowed the first two men to reach in the sixth and was pulled before Justin Grimm allowed them both to score. His command was a bit off by his standards, but he still managed to throw 63 percent of his pitches for strikes and was simply made to pay for location-related mistakes. After an outstanding 2016 campaign, Hendricks has underachieved through his first two starts and will carry an unsightly 5.73 ERA to go along with a 1.27 WHIP into Wednesday's outing against the Brewers.
Hendricks (1-0) gave up four runs on five hits and a walk in six innings Saturday, though he struck out six and came away with a win over the Brewers. He uncharacteristically gave up a pair of homers -- Hendricks allowed just 15 in 30 starts last year -- but he also helped his own cause by collecting two singles, an RBI and a run. Despite being the Cubs' third-best starter, he's lining up fifth in the rotation right now, which may provide Hendricks extra opportunities to rack up wins, as he's better by far than any other team's No. 5 (like Saturday's starter for the Brewers, Tommy Milone). However, his next start is scheduled for Friday afternoon at home against young Pirates ace Gerrit Cole.
Hendricks allowed two hits and no runs over five innings in Friday's exhibition against Houston. The right-hander looked sharp throughout the contest in his final tuneup before the season gets underway. Hendricks had been battling food poisoning over the past week, but it appears he's good to go as he prepares for his first start, next Saturday in Milwaukee. He'll be looking to build upon a strong 2016 campaign in which he posted a career-best 2.13 ERA over 30 starts.
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