Hendricks next prospect to make debut

OMAHA, Neb. -- The march of major league debuts continues as Chicago Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks takes the mound Thursday in their series finale against the Cincinnati Reds.

"I still don't think it's hit me, 100 percent," Hendricks said before leaving Triple-A Iowa for Ohio. "This is what you work for your entire life. It's finally here. When I step foot on that mound, and throw that first pitch, it might hit me a little. But it's the same game. Sixty feet, 6 inches. Hopefully I'll keep my emotions in check."

Hendricks might be the most well-known of the Cubs' young pitchers as the organization dubbed him the minor league hurler of the year in 2013 after he went a combined 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A. He came over from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster in 2012 after the Rangers drafted him the eighth round in 2011. All that flipping of veterans the Cubs have been doing might finally start to pay off.

This year Hendricks is 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA and claims he's been improving since making some pregame changes.

"I went through a stretch of 3-4 starts where I would go into the game where I wasn't 100 percent aggressive right out of the gate," Hendricks said. "I wasn't throwing my best stuff in the first inning, and I was giving up some runs early. It was hurting me because I was putting up zeros later in the game. But you can lose the game in the first inning."

So Hendricks and Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton changed the pregame routine and made it more "intense" at the end of warm-ups. The result has been wins in his last four full starts -- he was pulled after two innings on Sunday in advance of Thursday's debut -- and he's given up more than two runs in just one of them.

"He's ready," Walton said. "I told him not to overthink things. Just go out and pitch. So far our guys have been able to do that."

Walton is like a proud father as three of his pitchers -- Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and now Hendricks -- have made their major league debuts over the past couple of weeks and so far they've thrown well. Now it's Hendricks' turn.

"When you do struggle you want to overanalyze," Hendricks said. "That's a natural thing to do. It's the same game. Your heart will be beating a little faster. As long as you keep the ball down you can get major league hitters out."

Overanalyzing can be an issue for the Dartmouth graduate but Walton is quick to point out he'd rather work with someone who overanalyzes than the opposite. But sometimes baseball needs to be simple and Hendricks realizes that.

"It's definitely easier said than done," he said.

The instruction from above is to keep the ball down. Hendricks isn't overpowering -- some compare his style to Greg Maddux simply for that reason -- and he can paint the corners. The question is if a pitcher who knows how to pitch but only hits 91-92 mph on the radar gun can make it these days. The Cubs are banking that Hendricks is one who can.

Confidence is a big deal and when teammate Beeler threw six solid innings in his debut a few weeks ago, the entire Triple-A staff took notice.

"That was so much motivation and gave everyone down here so much confidence to see one of our teammates go up there and pitch great," Hendricks said. "My mind is racing. I threw a light bullpen [Tuesday] to get ready. Just have to get some rest."

Iowa manager Marty Pevey recalled Beeler's last bullpen session before heading to Wrigley Field for his first start. He was so amped up, Pevey had him put down his glove and run until he got it out of his system. Hendricks didn't need that but knows the feeling. He hopes he can achieve some calmness before taking the field on Thursday where most of his extended family will be with him in Cincinnati.

"I saw [Joey] Votto go on the disabled list so that's not bad," Hendricks joked. "I've been keeping track a little bit."