Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks after everything snowballed at start of season: ‘You can’t use excuses’

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Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks after everything snowballed at start of season: ‘You can’t use excuses’

CHICAGO — Kyle Hendricks’ unique success came from his ability to treat each pitch as a separate event. What happened in the previous at-bat or who’s standing in the on-deck circle shouldn’t matter. The entire focus has to be on that moment. It could be Game 7 of the World Series and the Chicago Cubs pitcher stared at the catcher with tunnel vision.

At his best, Hendricks kept hitters off-balance by moving his pitches up and down, and in and out, changing speeds without falling into predictable patterns. It’s getting harder at the age of 34 with a fastball that averages just under 88 mph. His right arm has already thrown more than 1,500 major-league innings (including the playoffs). Once he struggled at the start of this season and his mind drifted, it became an avalanche.

“When things start going bad, the tendency is to have that snowball effect,” Hendricks said Wednesday inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse. “One thing starts to go bad, your mental thoughts kind of get out of whack.”

That mental reset will be part of this time on the injured list for Hendricks, who said he began feeling something in his lower back last week during a bullpen session. It flared up again, he said, during his warm-up routine before Sunday’s game. It increased during a loss to the Miami Marlins that left him with a 12.00 ERA through five starts, a trend line that suggested his days with the Cubs could be numbered.

“You can’t use excuses,” Hendricks said, stressing that the back issue doesn’t entirely explain his poor performance. “Absolutely, 100 percent, there’s a lot of other things playing into that.”

Hendricks said he’s “not concerned” about the back injury “whatsoever.” He expects to throw a bullpen session during the upcoming road trip to Boston and New York. He plans to continue studying video and digging into the data, comparing this downturn to the high points of his career. It also sounds like he needs to clear his head.

“It’s just simplifying all those thoughts, taking it one pitch at a time again,” Hendricks said. “And having that positive self-talk that you can really lock in on and trust. That’s going to be part of the work going forward.”

It’s too soon to write off Hendricks, who defied the odds as an Ivy League pitcher and an eighth-round draft pick, outlasting all the other players from the 2016 World Series team. The Cubs understand it’s a long season and have to anticipate that more pitchers will get injured. Their younger pitchers will also have to be monitored closely as the innings stack up this summer. When he’s on top of his game, few pitchers in franchise history have proven to be as trustworthy as Hendricks in October.

“I have to have honest self-evaluation,” Hendricks said. “I’m just going to use this time to get things right that I need to get right. I just want to be here for this team by the end of the year. We know where we want to go. We have the team to do it this year.

“Hopefully we can bridge this gap and I’ll come back strong and be myself again.”

(Photo: Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)