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Cubs manager David Ross summed up Kyle Hendricks’ importance not only to the rotation, but the team’s overall success.
“We need Kyle to be historically who he's been for us to win baseball games,” Ross said following Friday’s win over the Cardinals.
Since the calendar flipped to May, Hendricks has looked like that guy.
Hendricks got off to a rough start in April, part of an 11-15 month for the Cubs. The right-hander put together the worst March/April of his career, sporting a 7.54 ERA through five starts. He threw four or less innings three times.
“Sometimes the guys that have the track record don't get off to the best starts,” Ross said. “We have to trust in that [track record].”
That trust is paying off. Hendricks tossed 6 2/3 innings against St. Louis Friday night, allowing just one earned run. It marks his third quality start in four tries this month, all of which he’s pitched into the seventh inning or later.
Hendricks’ ERA in May is 2.36, a closer reflection of his career track record.
“We've started to see vintage him the last few times out,” Ross said.
Hendricks’ resurgence couldn’t come at a better time for the Cubs, who moved to two games back of first in the NL Central with Friday’s win. His start came one day after another short start from Trevor Williams. Earlier Friday, Justin Steele hit the injured list with a hamstring strain.
Steele has emerged as a force in a bullpen that has been leaned on heavily to cover the rotation’s shortcomings this season. Although the Cubs entered Friday second in the NL in ERA, they’ve also tossed the second most innings.
Hendricks isn’t the only member of the rotation to struggle, but his importance to the staff is hard to overstate. He’s the ace and Opening Day starter, a guy they expect to count on.
“I want to be that guy that my team can rely on,” Hendricks said. “They know what they're going to get when I take the ball and go out there every fifth day.
“[Friday] was another step in the right direction.”
It's the latest step forward for Hendricks, against the backdrop of the Cubs' strong 12-6 record this month.
“It feels really good just finding a little bit of rhythm, being able to trust my stuff again,” he said. “I definitely feel a lot more like myself.”
It might take as close to a normal Hendricks as he can rediscover in the long run.
“We’re going to need him to be that version of him throughout the season for us to have success for sure,” Ross said.
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