Kyle Hendricks wasn’t supposed to be this good. He was never one to blow you away with stuff, and touching 90 MPH with your fastball doesn’t exactly make you a top prospect. Nevertheless, Hendricks performed well in the minors in both 2012 and 2013. After being named the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, Hendricks was called up to make a start on July 10th, 2014.
The first thing I realized when watching this game was how different both rosters were. In the 12-inning affair, six pitchers and 12 hitters appeared for the Cubs. Seven pitchers and 11 hitters appeared in the game for the Reds, and only catcher Tucker Barnhart remains. Only 15 of the 36 players in this game played a single MLB game in 2019, and, besides Hendricks, only Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo remain on the team they were on when this game was played. Both teams would go on to finish at the bottom of the division, with the Reds three games better than the Cubs.
Hendricks’ major-league career had an inauspicious beginning: he started the game with seven straight balls and two walks. After getting Todd Frazier to pop out, Hendricks allowed three straight hits, and all nine Reds came to the plate in the inning. His final line after one inning? 3 runs, 3 hits, 3 walks (one intentional), 0 strikeouts.
Over the next five innings, Hendricks posted the following line: 1 run, 2 hits, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts. As odd is this is to say about Hendricks, it definitely seems like there were some nerves going on in the first (he was also hurt by some calls that didn’t go his way). He struck out the side in his final inning of work, and left the game behind by a run, 4-3.
Hendricks also scored the Cubs’ first run of the game, on a surprisingly close play at the plate in the top of the 3rd. The Cubs pulled within one on an Arismendy Alcántara double—Alcántara was a consensus top-100 prospect going into 2014, but ended up being traded for Chris Coghlan in 2016. In the second game of his career, Alcántara went 4-5 with a double, a triple, and 3 RBI. Unfortunately, his major league career was marred by strikeouts, and he hasn’t featured in a game in the majors since 2017 (with the Reds) due to his career 49 wRC+. He did, however, have a 117 wRC+ with the Mets in AAA in 2019, and a 1.022 OPS with the Angels this spring.
The Cubs tied it in the top of the 8th on a Starlin Castro single, and the score would remain tied until the top of the 12th, when Luis Valbuena knocked in two runs on a triple before being thrown out at the plate. Blake Parker returned to the mound after a scoreless 11th and worked around a single to pitch a scoreless 12th, closing the game out.
Hendricks went on to earn the NL Rookie of the Month award in August after giving up just seven earned runs in 37 1/3 innings. Despite posting the lowest strikeout-minus-walk rate of his career, Hendricks still had an ERA below 3 and a 3.32 FIP on the year—and he’s never had an ERA or FIP above 4. A relative non-prospect transformed himself into one of the most consistent and underrated starters in the league, and this game was just the beginning.