Hendricks makes case for NLDS Game 1

Cubs not yet decided on rotation for series vs. Nationals

Hendricks makes case for NLDS Game 1

ST. LOUIS -- Kyle Hendricks threw five scoreless innings in his final regular-season start on Thursday night and gave manager Joe Maddon a lot to consider as the Cubs put together their rotation for the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Will Jon Lester start Game 1 on Oct. 6 against the Nationals in Washington, or could Maddon go with Hendricks? Now that the Cubs know they're going to the postseason, it's time to sort out the rotation.

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"Nothing has been etched in anything yet," Maddon said Thursday. "It's just nice to be able to slow it down, really analyze what's going on, know that we're playing Washington and try to figure it out from there."

Hendricks scattered four hits and struck out nine against the Cardinals on Thursday. Lester and Jake Arrieta will start Saturday and Sunday, respectively, against the Reds at Wrigley Field. Lester, who missed time because of fatigue in his left shoulder, hasn't been as sharp with his command, while Arrieta is still bothered by a tender right hamstring that knocked him out of his Sept. 4 start.

"I do believe watching him play Sunday will be important to find out about his health," Maddon said of Arrieta. "I think Jake will be honest about it and we'll see it from the dugout. This guy is so well tuned and in shape and he really works so darn hard, you anticipate a quick healing process. We'll see."

Hendricks has been looking even better than he did last season when he led the Major Leagues in ERA. Maddon noticed on Thursday that the right-hander was showing more velocity and better location with his pitches.

"When you watch him and he's going good, you see the take and no argument because the hitter knows it's a strike," Maddon said.

So, will it be Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, John Lackey or Jose Quintana?

"They all are [candidates]," Maddon said. "We haven't decided yet."

Lackey was solid over six innings on Wednesday against the Cardinals. Maddon was touched by Lester's toast to Lackey during Wednesday's postgame celebration.

"When Jonny Lester came up to the coaches and said, 'I want to do this,' I thought it was a great tribute," Maddon said. "You can see how sincere [Lester] was in regards to how he feels about Johnny Lackey. John does all the little histrionics on the field on occasion, but when you're with him all the time and he's not performing, he's an entirely different person. He's a softie outside of what you see on the field."

Hendricks now has a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts since returning from the disabled list on July 24. That warrants consideration.

Is he ready to start Game 1 if asked?

"Yeah, 100 percent, I'm ready," Hendricks said. "I've taken the mindset now, when you're locked in you take every game as another game. Even if it's Game 1, my focus is just make good pitches. Whenever I'm out there, read the situation, know what I have to do, know the game plan, rely on my preparation and the game plan with the catcher and just execute from there.

"I'm right where I need to be going into the playoffs," Hendricks said. "If they want to give me the ball in Game 1 great, but whenever they give it to me, I'm ready. Every game in the playoffs is big."

Hendricks did party a little on Wednesday night when the Cubs clinched, but he then returned to his hotel room to rest.

"I said, 'Hopefully, there's more to come,'" Hendricks said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.