MESA, AZ . -- Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta took the mound in Chicago Cubs camp for the first time in 2016 on Sunday, throwing a bullpen session to catcher Miguel Montero. Next to him was No. 5 starter Kyle Hendricks, who is hoping to keep his job as a group of pitchers push him for a rotation spot. There’s not much mystery with Arrieta -- he’ll be the Opening Day starter -- but will Hendricks be on the mound four days later or whenever the Cubs need their No. 5?
“It’s kind of been that way every year,” Hendricks said of the competition in camp. “I’m just trying to do my best. Get my work in and be ready.”
Last season saw some struggles for Hendricks after a breakout performance in 2014. Maybe the league caught up to him, but Hendricks thinks he lost his mechanics -- though at the time he didn’t believe it. Some serious work with pitching coach Chris Bosio found some flaws, and Hendricks made the proper adjustments. It wasn’t until the very end of the season when he saw it come to fruition as Hendricks pitched 12 scoreless innings in his final two starts, lowering his season ERA below 4.00. Then he went 1-1 in the postseason. He thinks he found what he needed in order to right the ship.
“I had some struggles,” Hendricks admitted. “My mechanics weren’t really working but at least at the end of the year I kind of found it. I started getting it back. Now I have these cues to my mechanics that are different than before, so hopefully I can run with it.”
In other words, if things go wrong again he thinks he knows how to fix it. He didn’t and couldn’t last year but is hopeful he’s found the key. He’ll need it to hold off a host of pitchers gunning for his job.
“We’ve talked about it but that would be at the expense of (Miguel) Montero,” Joe Maddon said. “You have to be really mindful of how you do this.”
It sounds simple enough to allow Schwarber to catch Hendricks, for example, every time his turn is up in the rotation. But what if Schwarber is hitting lefties better while Montero is crushing it against righties and there is a righty on the mound the day Hendricks pitches? And perhaps the next day there’s a lefty? Plus, it means automatically sitting Montero twice every turn through the rotation. It might not be best for the club. Then again, if Schwarber is going to catch once a week, why not make it easier on him and pair him with the same pitcher? It's hard to see where and when Schwarber catches if Montero is playing well, but everything has to be considered so Maddon isn't ready to commit to a plan either way.
“On a piece of paper we’ve talked about doing that but we haven’t decided yet,” Maddon said.