It was pretty tough to top Kyle Hendricks’ three-hit shutout Friday night, and Tyler Chatwood and Jon Lester made a point of telling Cubs manager David Ross just that prior to Saturday’s game against the Brewers.
“Why did I let Kyle pitch, because there’s nowhere but down,” Chatwood and Lester jokingly told Ross after Hendricks became the first pitcher to throw a shutout with no walks, three hits or fewer and at least nine strikeouts on opening day since Ledell Titcomb did so for the New York Giants against Washington on April 20, 1888, according to STATS, Inc.
“They related it to golf,” Ross said. “You got the zero handicap guy, and everybody else has a 15 after that.”
Catcher Willson Contreras drew a more lofty comparison.
“I’m seeing the Kyle from 2016,” Contreras said of Hendricks’ best season when he led the majors with a 2.13 ERA and set career highs with 16 wins, 190 innings and 170 strikeouts.
Contreras cited an increase in Hendricks’ velocity from 85 mph to 89, an improved changeup and “the curve is the best I’ve ever seen in four years.”
“Kyle is in great shape, a great spot right now, and we hope he keeps doing his thing during this two-month season.”
Contreras said the changeup remains Hendricks’ best pitch, but now has the ability to throw his curve at any time in a count.
“He prepares himself better than anybody,” Contreras said.
Coincidentally, Titcomb’s feat occurred in the final season that five balls were required for a walk.
Meanwhile, Ross revealed he received around 150 congratulatory messages on winning his first game as manager, equaling his total when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series in his final game as a player.
Ross said he would try to respond to the messages and appreciated a gift from Lester, the game ball from second baseman Nico Hoerner and the lineup card from bench coach Andy Green.
When Ross returned home from the ballpark, he was greeted by his parents and three children, who made a sign for him when he walked in the front door.
Willson Contreras happy for little brother
Friday marked one of Contreras’ happiest days as a major leaguer, and not just because he caught Hendricks’ masterpiece.
William Contreras, Willson’s younger 22-year-old brother, caught the eighth inning of the Braves’ 1-0 loss to the Mets in his major-league debut. William is ranked the Braves’ eighth best prospect by Baseball America.
“I think he can be better than me,” Willson said. “He has a great talent, great tools.”
Willson was impressed while working out with his younger brother during the 3 1/4 u00bd-month shutdown caused by the coronavirus, particularly his willingness to learn.
“He had a great summer camp, and that’s why he’s there,” Willson said.
The younger Contreras catcher was promoted after Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers showed symptoms of COVID-19.
T-shirt tradition continues
The Cubs, who unofficially led the majors in T-shirts under former manager Joe Maddon, have been sporting T-shirts with the words “Get on the bus” on them.
Ross said it was hitting coach Anthony Iapoce’s idea to print the shirts with the slogan, but declined to elaborate.
“That’s his baby, and it’s got a lot of different meanings for us, so that’s one I’d like to keep in-house,” Ross said.
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