On Tuesday night Cubs fans got their first look at the Chicago Cubs playing baseball in over 100 days. It was a pitcher’s duel between the two men considered most likely to be named the Cubs Opening Day starter on July 24 against the Milwaukee Brewers: Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish.
Darvish is a phenom. He added a knuckle curve a week after he met Craig Kimbrel last season and he invented an 11th pitch (yes, you read that right, eleven) over the offseason. He calls it the Supreme. I call it nasty:
Yu Darvish, 93mph Supreme with Tail. pic.twitter.com/tJzgxRSK9l— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 6, 2020
Darvish looked good on Tuesday night - he threw 60 pitches over 3⅔ innings. At times he looked mystifying as he faced his teammates. But he also looked human with a walk and a wild pitch in the first inning before giving up a no-doubt home run to Willson Contreras in the fourth inning.
Hendricks, on the other hand, looked outstanding. He only gave up one hit and threw 70 pitches over 6⅓ innings with manager David Ross electing to have Hendricks pitch a four-out sixth to hit his pitch count. At one point during the broadcast Len and JD commented that Hendricks was on pace for a Maddux against a solid blue team line up:
It’s hard to imagine two pitchers more different than Hendricks and Darvish, and choosing between their talents for Opening Day is certainly a nice problem to have. Hendricks relies on four pitches. According to PitchFX he throws a sinker that maxes out around 87 MPH 41 percent of the time, he mixes that with an 87 MPH fourseam fastball he throws a little over 20 percent of the time and a plus change up that he throws just over 78 MPH. He rounds that out with a curve ball, and known for precise placement and command of his pitches. According to NBC Sports Hendricks’ readiness and resume both factored into Ross’ decision to name him the Opening Day starter:
“He was up to 75 pitches the other day,” Ross said Thursday of Hendricks’ last intrasquad outing. “He’s further along than any of our starters and it just makes sense for the work that he’s put in and his resume as well as he’s the one that’s ready.
“I’ve had that in my mind for a little while but I didn’t want to jump the gun.”
This will be Hendricks’ first Opening Day start, but he’s no stranger to big games. During the Cubs World Series run the Professor demonstrated he had ice water in his veins throwing an absolute masterpiece against the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS before starting World Series Game 7 — a game many Cubs fans, including myself, believe he was pulled from too early.
Hendricks has been consistently underrated as a starter due to his modest pitching arsenal, but anyone who has watched him over the last six seasons knows he more than makes up for velocity with command. None of us were surprised to see The Professor atop the STATS LLC Command+ leaderboard when it was unveiled in The Athletic in 2018.
As Ross named Hendricks his Opening Day starter he reminisced about the narrative surrounding Hendricks’ limitations when he joined the Cubs as a catcher in 2015:
I remember when I first got here the narrative was he couldn’t go through the lineup three times, which makes me laugh now.
Now the narrative is that Kyle Hendricks just gets guys out. Here’s to Hendricks getting a lot of Brewers out in a little over a week when the 2020 season begins.