Cubs: Kyle Hendricks looks for lasting impression in debut

Cubs: Kyle Hendricks looks for lasting impression in debut
July 9, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

DES MOINES, Iowa - Kyle Hendricks isn't in this for just one start.

The Cubs are calling up their 2013 minor league pitcher of the year to make his big-league debut on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds, trying to piece together the rotation after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s.

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After Tsuyoshi Wada and Dallas Beeler auditioned at Great American Ball Park, Hendricks wants to show he belongs.

"Our whole staff, I think everybody [at Triple-A Iowa] is pretty much ready for the next level," Hendricks said last week. "We've all had success here. There are a lot of guys who pitched up there and they've pitched very well. It's always great to see, and it gives you confidence."

Hendricks turned in a dominant 2013 season, going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 27 starts. After putting up a 1.85 ERA with Double-A Tennessee, he didn't miss a beat upon his Triple-A promotion, posting a 2.48 ERA in six starts.

This year Hendricks (10-5, 3.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) focused on refining parts of his game, so he could stick in the majors once he got the call.

After striking out just 6.9 batters per nine innings last season, Hendricks has dispelled some concerns about his ability to miss bats by upping his rate to 8.5 K/9 this year.

"He's done an outstanding job," Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton said. "We've been working on a couple new pitches - a new changeup and a curveball - and bringing those into the mix.

"He's still having great numbers and it's very exciting to see. He's doing it at a higher level. He's really just finishing off (his game). He's figuring out his lanes. He's figuring out how to pitch to plans a little bit more. Really, just working on the mental side of it."

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The Cubs Way is supposed to be all about executing gameplans.

Hendricks and the Iowa pitchers have gotten to the point where they're more focused on working different areas than they are concerned with the stats in the box score.

"It's definitely hard, because at the end of the day, results are what you look at," Hendricks said. "But we have gotten into more of a groove of looking at where my pitches are going, how everything is moving and trying to figure out how it's going to work at the next level.

"Most of that just happens during the bullpens. When you go out there in the games, you still want to win. It doesn't matter what level you're at."

Hendricks has never been considered a top prospect, coming over from the Texas Rangers as part of the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal.

But Hendricks is a student of the game and uses his smarts to make up for anything his right arm may lack. In the offseason, he finished up his degree at Dartmouth after leaving early when the Rangers selected him in the eighth round of the 2011 draft.

"His brain is going to be one of his tools," Walton said. "He understands the game very well. He understands pitching very well. He's mentally prepared for the big leagues."

C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson got headlines as the organization’s top pitching prospects. But while they've battled injuries, Hendricks emerged as an option for whenever the Cubs traded away Samardzija and Hammel.

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Hendricks insisted he wasn't paying attention to the rumors surrounding Samardzija and Hammel. But they’re in Oakland now, and this rotation is wide open.

Can Hendricks stake his claim?

"I believe Kyle's ready," Walton said. "There wasn't a whole lot of other things we could work on to finish him off. He understands what he needs to do.

"We were making sure that when he was called up, we gave him the best chance to stay there."