Kyle Hendricks has long been my favorite current Cub. I like the way he succeeds without great velocity, unlike most modern pitchers. His demeanor on the mound and cerebral approach to the game make him different than almost any other major-league player. And, of course, he’s been a successful pitcher almost from the day he made his MLB debut in 2014 and the Cubs have rewarded him with a multi-year contract that could keep him a North Sider through 2024.
Friday evening, Hendricks once again showed why he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball despite that lack of velocity. If not for Orlando Arcia — who had all three hits Kyle allowed, all singles — maybe we’re talking about a no-hitter this morning. Arcia never got past first base, no other Brewers reached base at all, and Hendricks struck out nine on his way to a 3-0, complete-game shutout win to begin the 2020 60-game Cubs season on a high note. If you believe in omens:
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the third. With one out, Nico Hoerner singled and that brought up Ian Happ [VIDEO].
That ball went a long, long way:
If you’re keeping track:
First #Cubs home run of season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 24, 2020
2020: Ian Happ
2019: Javier Báez
2018: Ian Happ (leadoff)
2017: Willson Contreras
2016: Miguel Montero
2015: Chris Coghlan
2014: Anthony Rizzo
2013: Anthony Rizzo
2012: Darwin Barney
The Cubs didn’t generate much offense in this game, either. Kyle Schwarber had registered the first Cubs hit of the season with a second-inning single. Victor Caratini doubled in the bottom of the fifth, the first hit by a Cubs designated hitter ever at Wrigley Field.
And Anthony Rizzo provided some insurance for the Professor in the bottom of the eighth [VIDEO].
Rizzo had been hit on the wrist earlier in the game and seemed in quite a bit of pain. Clearly, the HBP — which broke a tie with Jose Guillen for 24th on the all-time list — didn’t bother Rizzo on that home run, a laser beam of a line drive to right:
Hendricks entered the ninth inning having thrown 89 pitches, so he had a chance for a Maddux (a complete-game shutout in fewer than 100 pitches). Arcia got his third hit of the game leading off the inning; a double play would have helped, and Hendricks did get a couple of ground balls. Neither was hit hard enough to lead to a DP, though, and Christian Yelich’s seven-pitch at-bat put Kyle at 102 pitches. Manager David Ross went to the mound after that, and I thought, “Really? He’s not going to take Kyle out now, is he?” It seemed more of a pat-on-the-back, go-get-’em visit, and Hendricks got Keston Hiura on another ground ball to end it at 103 pitches, a masterpiece of a game. The whole thing was done in two hours, 30 minutes, and you know how much I enjoy quickly-paced games like this one.
It was pointed out during the game broadcast that the last Cubs pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout on Opening Day was Bill Bonham in 1974, a four-hit, nine-strikeout 2-0 blanking of the Phillies. We certainly hope this season turns out better than that one, which wound up with 96 Cubs losses.
It should also be noted that this was the first CG shutout by any Cubs pitcher since Hendricks did throw a Maddux last May 3 against the Cardinals. Friday’s gem was the fourth CG shutout of Hendricks’ career. Since 2000, the most CG shutouts thrown by any Cub is five, by Jake Arrieta, of course including his two no-hitters.
And here’s one more cool bit of history accomplished by Hendricks Friday night:
Tonight Kyle Hendricks of the @Cubs became the first pitcher to throw a CG shutout with 9+ strikeouts, 0 walks and 3 or fewer hits allowed on Opening Day since Ledell Titcomb did so for the New York Giants on April 20, 1888.#WhereStoriesPlay— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) July 25, 2020
Hendricks’ style has been compared to Greg Maddux, and of course that’s high praise regarding comparison to a Hall of Famer who was arguably the best pitcher of his generation. Maddux never threw a no-hitter, likely because he threw strikes and hitters put the ball in play against him — just most often right at a fielder. Hendricks does the same; as noted above, weak contact is his game, though the nine strikeouts were also a plus Friday night. Hendricks got 12 ground-ball outs in addition to the K’s, helped out by some nice play at third base by Kris Bryant.
In short: A masterpiece.
Ian Happ, on playing center field behind Kyle Hendricks on Friday night:— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 25, 2020
"I basically could've sat down out there."
I did want to say a few things about Marquee Sports Network’s coverage, as this was their first regular-season broadcast. Most of what I wrote about their style here last February is still valid. In general, the coverage of game action was very good, enhanced by some of the robotic cameras the network was able to place in various spots in empty Wrigley Field.
But I still don’t care for the location of Marquee’s scorebox:
The box does have useful information about the hitter and pitcher. The problem occurs when the network does this:
That’s also useful information — but now you can’t see the score. The whole point of having a scorebox is so the viewer, who might be distracted from watching at times, can look at the screen at any time and immediately see the score. Further, as I pointed out in my February article, your eye naturally goes to the top of the screen, not the bottom, so looking for the score and count information at the bottom just doesn’t feel right. NBC Sports Chicago’s scorebox graphic, in my view, is just right:
In that box, the count, pitches, outs, inning and baserunners are easy to read, the teams and score are in contrasting colors, and it’s in the upper left. Marquee should consider, at the very least, moving their box. Also, Marquee doesn’t have a pitch-tracker graphic similar to the one shown here. I’d like to see them add that as well.
While Ryan Dempster did add some useful commentary on pitching, I find three people in the booth too many. There’s generally not enough time for three commentators to say cogent and interesting things — and that applies to any sport, not just baseball. When Dempster was in the booth, often the game action didn’t get called while Len and JD and Ryan were off on a tangent.
Lastly, Len and JD looked weird in shirt and tie. I hope that was just an “Opening Day” thing.
One more Opening Day note:
I should have pointed out originally that it almost happened on April 9, 1990, but after the Sox played their game, the Cubs got rained out after two innings and the game didn't count. But thanks.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 24, 2020
The April 9, 1990 openers weren’t scheduled to happen that way. The 1990 season was delayed a week by a labor dispute. All of the games that were lost to the stoppage were eventually made up. The White Sox were not originally scheduled to play April 9, that was one of the makeup games (against the Brewers, then in the AL). The Sox, scheduled for a day game, got theirs in, but then it started raining on and off for the Cubs’ scheduled night game against the Phillies. The Cubs and Phillies played two innings before the rain started coming down harder and the game was postponed, made up as part of a doubleheader April 12. Incidentally, by a new 2020 rule that April 9, 1990 game would have been suspended instead of cancelled and replayed.
The Cubs go for two in a row over the Brewers Saturday afternoon. Yu Darvish will start for the Cubs and Corbin Burnes goes for Milwaukee. Game time is 12:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage Saturday is on Fox-TV — full national broadcast, no blackouts. The game preview here will post at 10:30 a.m. CT.