The training wheels are off for Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks
Kyle Hendricks’ ongoing maturation has led to an identity-crisis for virtually every MLB hitter who has to face off against the veteran Chicago Cubs hurler.
Few of them seem to have any idea what they need to do to be their best against the man who over the last two seasons has posted a cumulative ERA under 2.80.
Even bigger and better things are expected this season from Hendricks, so crafty and meticulous in his delivery teammates have taken to calling him The Professor.
“I’ve learned so much about myself,” Hendricks recently told ESPN. “This is my peak time. The amount that I’ve learned is amazing. You think you know everything, but every year in this game I’ve learned about myself.”
Perhaps that’s why the 28-year-old Ivy League grad seems as confident as he’s ever been. So far in the big leagues, Hendricks has had an every-other-year type odyssey that has resulted in his performance proving even more dominant in those seasons.
This could be one of those years and then some for Hendricks, who besides now having the peace of mind that comes with pocketing his most lucrative MLB paycheck ever, has the added advantage of now having his soul-mate by his side after marrying longtime girlfriend Emma Cain during the offseason.
“Confidence can help a lot,” he recently told ESPN. “I do like being settled. Getting married is very settling, and obviously the contract gives you a little bit of security.”
Hendricks’ contentment prominently figures into the team’s planned enrichment.
“The big thing is him staying healthy,” team ace and anointed Opening Day starter Jon Lester told ESPN. “The training wheels are off.”
Hendricks knows the key for him in hitting all his targets lies in being able to be true to himself. A sore tendon in his pitching arm last season at least partly accounted for him posting an ERA over 4.00 during the first half of the season.
“I could not get into my mechanics,” he said. “Something wasn’t right.”
This season, Hendricks is taking aim at being the man he showed himself to be in 2016, when he finished 16-8 and posted an N.L. best 2.13 ERA. He capped that season by dueling CY Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of NLCS against the Dodgers and by starting Game 7 of the World Series on a night when the Cubs finally ended the franchise’s century-long run of futility.
Even with all those successes now under his belt, Hendricks isn’t about to leave anything to chance. His goals this season include making all 32 of his starts and proving himself to be even more adaptable to whatever the situation calls for.
“To reach the top of the game, it is health, being consistent, handling the bat even,” Hendricks told ESPN. “If you want to be that top-of-the-rotation guy, you want to be left in there for that third (at bat). Even fielding my position could be better.”