Cubs hold unheralded Hendricks in high esteem

Maddon, teammates praise righty's command, ability to baffle batters

Cubs hold unheralded Hendricks in high esteem

CHICAGO -- Kyle Hendricks isn't the Cubs' "fifth starter," he's just a good starting pitcher.

After a rough series against the Mets, Hendricks helped the Cubs get back on track, picking up a win in Chicago's 10-4 romp over Cincinnati on Monday. That was his last start for the first half; his next outing will be Chicago's first game after the All-Star break on July 15 against the Rangers.

"Kyle has pitched as well as anybody on this team," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Contreras talks Cubs win

That's saying a lot, considering the Cubs' starting pitchers have been ranked in the top 20 in ERA for the majority of the season, and combined, lead all of baseball with 42 wins and a 2.87 ERA.

Hendricks scattered four hits over 5 1/3 innings, and his outing was cut short because he was coming off a start in which he threw a career-high 117 pitches. He'll have plenty of time to recuperate.

Maddon talks 10-4 win

"If they had me keep on pitching, it'd be fine," he said. "If they give me a break, I'll take it."

The right-hander now has won seven games in 16 starts -- his career high in wins for a season is eight, set last year. The Cubs have won his last four starts, and he's given up three earned runs over 23 innings in that stretch.

"He's a wonderful, classic example of not having to throw 90 some miles an hour to be effective," Maddon said. "Furthermore, he's right-handed. Most of the time, when you get a guy effective in the high 80s to low 90s, he's normally a left-handed pitcher with a great changeup. It's not often you see a right-hander doing what he's doing. Give him credit. He's been spot on with his command."

Hendricks strands two

Hendricks, though, knows his role in the rotation.

"On this team, I definitely am [the fifth starter]," he said. "I don't think about it like that. I just know when [Maddon] gives me the ball, I'm going out there trying to do whatever I can do."

What he's doing is confusing the batters.

"It's so fun to watch from the side, because you see the reaction by the hitter when he makes a pitch that they take, and they know it's a strike and there's not a whole lot they could've done with it," Maddon said. "He's doing a great job mixing it up and varying speeds and hitting his spots. I don't think he could pitch any better than he is now."

His teammates are happy they don't have to face Hendricks.

"He picks those corners and has a good mix," shortstop Addison Russell said. "You have a certain plan against Kyle, and he mixes up the plan. He's got great stuff."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.