- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- On a day when Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs, stud prospect Arismendy Alcantara hit one onto Sheffield Avenue and the Cubs promoted two of their other big-time prospects -- Jorge Soler and Albert Almora -- it was 24-year-old Kyle Hendricks who should steal all the headlines.
The Cubs need arms to go along with all these bats, and Hendricks might be a keeper after earning his first career win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.
"Definitely the best day of my life," Hendricks said after the Cubs’ 6-0 victory snapped their five-game skid. "First major league win. It's what you work for since you were a little kid playing T-ball. I can't put it into words."
Hendricks pitched as advertised, changing speeds from slow to slower while working both sides of the plate. His fastball averaged just 87.2 mph, while his curveball -- his best pitch on Tuesday -- averaged 75 mph. His changeup fluctuated between 78 mph and 85 mph. He hit 90 mph on the radar gun just twice all night.
With all that soft throwing, Hendricks lasted seven innings, giving up just five hits, three walks and no runs while using only 83 pitches.
"He kept his pitch count down,” Rizzo said. “Especially in the conditions today."
Fielders love getting on and off the field in particularly nasty weather. Most of the time at Wrigley Field it’s the cold that annoys them, but Tuesday was the muggiest night of the summer.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Hendricks averaged 3.07 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest of any Cubs starter this season. Three double-play balls didn’t hurt his efficiency, either.
"He had a good idea of what he wanted to do with every single hitter," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.
"Having an idea" is what will get Hendricks far. He didn’t break any radar guns -- and he never will -- but what he lacks in power he makes up in movement and know-how. All five of his strikeouts were on pitches outside the zone.
"[Cubs catcher] Welington [Castillo] and I went in with a good game plan and pretty much stuck to it all night," Hendricks said.
Hendricks gave up three walks, which isn’t his normal style, but he got out of every potential jam as the Padres went 0-for-10 with runners on base, including 0-for-5 when in scoring position.
"You definitely wonder when you come up," Hendricks said. "That’s the hardest thing in baseball, to trust your stuff. But that’s what you have to fall back on."
The Cubs are in the midst of changing their team from perennial loser to what they hope is a perennial contender. Even after just two career starts, Hendricks was asked if the Cubs' time is coming.
"We’re just trying to play good baseball," he said. "I just got up here. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team at this point."
Home runs are sexy, but pitching still wins games. Hendricks might help the Cubs for years to come.
18hESPN Stats & Information