'Tone setter' Hendricks gets Cubs on track

Outstanding six-inning outing opens second half following club's rough stretch

'Tone setter' Hendricks gets Cubs on track

CHICAGO -- Kyle Hendricks doesn't have the gaudy strikeout totals or no-hitters like Jake Arrieta, but the young Cubs right-hander has become the "tone setter," manager Joe Maddon said. The difference may be because Hendricks was allowed to go deeper than usual in a game.

On June 29 against the Reds on a hot day in Cincinnati, Hendricks threw a career-high 117 pitches over 6 2/3 innings in a 9-2 win. The Cubs' bullpen was gassed, and Maddon needed Hendricks to extend himself.

"I thought that would really stretch him mentally, and it did," Maddon said after Hendricks picked up his eighth win on Friday afternoon in a 6-0 victory over the Rangers. "Before that, he was pitching well, but one moment that he could prove to himself that he could do that."

"That start helped me a lot, just going that many pitches that deep in a game," Hendricks said. "It gave me a lot of confidence to know I could still make a lot of pitches that deep into my pitch count. You have to learn how to go deep in games, and the only way you do that is by actually doing it. The fact that [Maddon] gave me the opportunity to do it was big."

Hendricks scattered three hits over six innings against the Rangers, who had drafted him in the eighth round in 2011, then traded him to Chicago in the Ryan Dempster deal in '12.

"I'm happy for him," Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. "I wish he wasn't the winning pitcher today, but I'm happy for him. ... I thought he had a chance, but if I knew he was going to do this, I wouldn't have put him in the deal."

Hendricks has matched his career high in wins (he won eight in 2015), and he has an overall ERA of 2.41, which ranks third in the Major Leagues among qualifying starters behind the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (1.79) and the Giants' Madison Bumgarner (1.94). And Hendricks is the Cubs' fifth starter.

Hendricks called Friday "just another game," but it wasn't to the Cubs, who went 9-15 in their final 24 games before the All-Star break. They want to get back on track.

"He's been kind of like a tone setter -- it's not unlike what Jake did last year. He's been that good," Maddon said of Hendricks. "He's just doing it in a different way. He's not this overpowering guy, but he's getting his punchouts, he's not walking people, he's getting weak contact and he's pitching innings. He's done a great job."

During the All-Star break, Hendricks came over to Wrigley Field to throw a couple times to maintain a feel for his pitches, and he admitted he was surprised at how good he felt on Friday. His approach is simple.

"You don't want to have your misses over the middle of the plate," Hendricks said. "That's how you'll get hard contact. It's just keeping the ball down, out of the middle of the plate and make sure it's moving and try to get it off the end of the bat or the handle."

Said Maddon: "Kyle's one of the best pitchers in the National League now and nobody's talking about it. Because he doesn't throw 95 [mph], it's easy to overlook this fellow, but I promise you hitters don't really dig going up and facing this fellow, right or left-handed."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com 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.