PITTSBURGH -- He says he's not quite the Kyle Hendricks of 2016 yet, but Tuesday was a step in the right direction for the Chicago Cubs' righty. Hendricks struggled a bit early in the game but found something that locked him in around the third inning in his team's 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's a step closer to being that guy again.
"Something in my mechanics clicked, or maybe I fell into the flow of the game or something," he explained afterward. "I was closer. It's one start but definitely better."
The best news is his fastball is climbing the velocity ladder, which is all important to the rest of his game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the average velocity on his fastball on Tuesday was 85.9 mph, a season high. It allowed his changeup to act accordingly, keeping the Pirates off balance.
"It's not where I want to be, but it's not 83 mph or whatever it was last start," Hendricks said.
After throwing too much between outings, Hendricks was hitting only 83 and 84 on the radar gun last time he pitched. Backing off helped, and his off-speed stuff was the beneficiary. The Pirates went 0-for-6 on at-bats ending with his changeup, and a season-high 63.6 percent of them went for strikes.
"It was more on line," Hendricks explained. "I wasn’t pushing it or burying it in the ground. I got some more swings on it. In past games, there were a lot of takes."
Slowly, the Cubs might be getting their starting pitching in order. Even in compiling some good early-season performances, no one was completely locked in. Then they went a week without a quality start while the offense carried them. But the past two days -- especially Tuesday -- had a better feel to it on the mound. Hendricks' line tells his story: He lasted six innings, giving up four hits and two walks while matching Pirates starter Gerrit Cole as best he could. Cole was dominant, and Hendricks wasn't far from it.
While enthused by the outing, by no means is Hendricks satisfied. He could use a few more ticks of velocity and be a little sharper from the beginning of the game. Then the MLB ERA leader of a year ago might take off. He needs more time to get there.
"I'm not in the zone dialed in the way I was at the end of last year," Hendricks said. "That was a completely different feeling and sensation."