MESA, Ariz. – It's not hard to argue that over the past two seasons, no one on the Cubs' pitching staff has been better – or more consistent – than Kyle Hendricks. Over that span, Hendricks leads the team in innings pitched (376), FIP (3.70), and K/BB ratio (4.1). He also has the lowest WHIP (1.14), highest amount of soft contact (21.1%) and is the only starter to have a wOBA below .300. It seems just about everyone, besides Hendricks himself, has been thrilled with the production.
"I didn't like the trend that was going the last two years or so," Hendricks said on Friday. "So I changed a lot of my offseason program, as far as training. And then I started playing catch and throwing earlier in the offseason this year. Just started getting ready and getting prepared earlier, trying to come into spring really ready to go and try and take advantage of this time also just to get better, not just trying to get ready for Game 1."
Everyone's in the best shape of their lives right now, ready to put together the best season of their careers, but both David Ross and Willson Contreras went out of their way to note Hendricks came into camp looking especially strong – the product of a new, altered training program the pitcher elected to try out over the winter. After years of standard weight training and fitness regiments, Hendricks began noticing a concerning trend.
"I was just getting very mechanical, I guess," he said. "It wasn't athletic. My arm path wasn't smooth and easy. Also, I was just kind of fatiguing more than I would like to at the end of a season – especially in my lower half. So I made some changes. I feel really strong shoulder-wise, because I had that shoulder thing last year. Lower half feels a lot better, and I just feel more athletic overall. My mechanics kind of show it, so I'm just going to keep working on it."
The idea to switch came after listening to relievers Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler rave about their trainer. So Hendricks gave it a shot. Not only did the routine have him beginning his throwing routine earlier in the year, but the new exercises emphasized strength and fluidity of motion over traditional muscle building. And it's made a world of difference.
"[It's] a lot more new school kind of stuff – a lot more movement stuff and becoming more athletic," he said. "Not just stuff in the weight room to get me ready to go pitch on the mound, but movement stuff so I can feel better moving around the mound, too. It's just made my whole mechanics flow better and not just get so pushy with it."
The drive to reinvent himself as a pitcher – especially after two seasons that, on the surface, don't necessarily call for it – is what makes Hendricks such a fun and special player to coach, according to his catcher-turned-manager.
"Kyle's one of those guys where you just don't have to worry much about as a coach," Ross said. "He sets the right example, he goes about his business. He's unemotional in every aspect of his game. Good or bad, you'd never know how his last start was. He comes in, he's a worker, he prepares the right way, and goes out and gives you his best effort. I feel like he's one of the guys you have to worry about least."