Cubs confident with battle-tested Hendricks

Under-the-radar righty starts winner-take-all Game 5

Cubs confident with battle-tested Hendricks

CHICAGO -- On Thursday night, the Cubs will put their season in the right hand of Kyle Hendricks.

• NLDS Game 5: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on TBS

Coming off a gem in Game 1, Hendricks will start a winner-take-all Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. He will return to Nationals Park, where he began this series against Stephen Strasburg, in a game that will either send the Cubs back to the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World against the Dodgers or end their season.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 CHC 3, WSH 0 WATCH
Gm 2 Oct. 7 WSH 6, CHC 3 WATCH
Gm 3 Oct. 9 CHC 2, WSH 1 WATCH
Gm 4 Oct. 11 WSH 5, CHC 0 WATCH
Gm 5 Oct. 12 CHC 9, WSH 8 WATCH

Not that Hendricks is affected by the magnitude of it all. Far from it. His teammates laud the 27-year-old's calm demeanor and cool under pressure.

"We have all the confidence in that guy," shortstop Addison Russell said. "He goes about his business in such a way where, if you just watch him work, the confidence is there. It builds confidence throughout this team. We're really happy to have him out there."

Hendricks has shown it before. He was on top of his game in last year's NLCS against the Dodgers. He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 3 of the World Series and started the Cubs' last elimination game: Game 7 against the Indians. He went toe-to-toe with Strasburg last Friday, allowing two hits and striking out six over seven scoreless innings.

That experience, Hendricks said, erases the anxiety others might feel in a moment like this.

"You know what the atmosphere is going to be like. You know what the crowd is going to be like," Hendricks said. "All those external factors, if you can kind of keep that under control, you know the pitching part.

Gear up for Cubs' postseason

"You know what to do once you get out on the mound. Being able to control all those external factors, I think, is going to be huge. Yeah, it will help me out. At the end of the day, it's just about making good pitches. That's where I need to mentally prepare, go out when it's Game 5 and just make good pitches."

Hendricks set for Game 5 of NLDS

Most of Hendricks' pitches in Game 1 were fastballs, a simple approach that neutralized a formidable Nats lineup. Not known for his velocity, Hendricks said sound mechanics and improved timing helped add a little extra life on his sinker, as the pitch averaged 88.2 mph in Game 1.

That slight uptick widened the velocity gap between his sinker and changeup, which helped him induce six swinging strikes on the 23 changeups he threw last Friday.

Hendricks' scoreless outing

"Earlier in the year, I think my mechanics were off," Hendricks said. "Once that starts coming around, you feel you can start letting it go more. You don't have to think about your mechanics as much. It just becomes more natural. So I think it's just become a little easier for me."

Hendricks had hoped he wouldn't have to pitch again this series. But the Nationals, on the brink of elimination, bounced back on Wednesday in Game 4. Hendricks may not get the same attention as his teammates or Washington's rotation full of aces, but the Cubs have complete confidence in him taking the mound with their season on the line.

"It's kind of how it always has been for me, just been an under-the-radar kind of guy. It doesn't bother me at all," Hendricks said. "I'm not the guy that's going to go out there and show all the emotion and throw 98 [mph]. That's what the fans love, and that's fine with me.

"I just love going out there and competing, especially with this group of guys, and doing whatever it takes to win. That's all I care about."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.