Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey joined 670 The Score’s Mully and Hanley Show — which in this case was actually hosted by Barry Rozner and Joe Ostrowski — Thursday morning to discuss all the things within his purview. Unlike the coachspeak you usually get in this situations, Hickey is more or less an open book. And while that’s great for radio, I often wonder whether the Cubs really like it.
I couldn’t help but imagine the conversation between Hickey and Theo Epstein going a little something like this after the former hung up with The Score:
Bruh, you’ve got to quit being so frank when you’re talking to the media.
Sorry, you must have the wrong number, this is Jim. Jim Hickey.
Yes, Jim, I know who you are. I’m just saying you need to be careful when talking about Yu.
Oh, I didn’t talk about me at all, just our pitchers.
Shoot, I’m sorry, Theo, I keep forgetting that this isn’t Tampa and people actually pay attention to the baseball team.
Apologies to Hickey if my parody portrayal casts him as something of a rube, since that’s not who or what he is at all. But he is pretty transparent when it comes to issues the pitching staff is facing and how they’re trying to work through those things. And while that doesn’t seem like a big deal in and of itself, Hickey gets into some real specifics and tells it all exactly like it is.
That was certainly the case when he talked about Kyle Hendricks, who clearly struggled through much of the first half. His sinker command was uncharacteristically poor, which led to an inordinate number of home runs and blunted the efficacy of his trademark changeup.
He also had trouble with the curve and frequently avoided it because his other pitches weren’t working well enough to allow him to deploy it with confidence. Well, that and the curve was just getting tagged, which is sort of a chicken-and-egg thing. Those problems all vanished last week in San Francisco, when Hendricks again resembled a Cy Young candidate.
“We’ve been wanting to throw [the curve] more, wanting to mix it in, just haven’t really been throwing the other stuff good enough to do that. Today, the fastball command was finally there and it just opened up the rest of the game for me.”
Hendricks also talked about working on his mechanics, though he didn’t get into all the specifics. Hickey, though, shared that the trouble stemmed from the righty “sitting on his back leg,” collapsing too much and getting wild in his delivery as a result. Hickey mentioned that the flaw was causing Hendricks to put too much effort into his motion, which would explain the difficulty locating pitches.
Contrast that with what we saw against the Giants and what we’ve seen from Hendricks when he’s at his best, which is that his body seems as impassive as his expression. He just throws free and easy with what appears to be almost no effort at all. This could just be confirmation bias on my part, but Hendricks did appear to be much more comfortable out there the other night.
Adding to the feel-good story of Hendricks’ superlative start was Jose Quintana following up with an excellent effort of his own. His fastball was on point and his curve dropped in as well as we’ve seen all year, so it was a bit of a surprise when the Cubs opted to skip the lefty’s next turn in the rotation. Pitching Hendricks and Jon Lester over the final weekend of the first half wasn’t a mystery, but keeping Tyler Chatwood’s spot sure was.
And Quintana was named last in the rotation when the Cubs announced their starters for the St. Louis series, meaning he’ll have 11 days between starts. No explanation was given at the time and I threw out there that something might be up with Quintana’s “particular situation,” which is code for either injury or fatigue.
Hickey confirmed that it was a case of the latter and that Q’s left arm was a little tired and simply needed an extended break. That extra time off should allow him to get out there to finish the series with what the Cubs hope is a long outing following Saturday’s double-header.
Given that they’ll play 12 games in 11 days to open the second half, Hickey admitted that a sixth man in the rotation was very likely the first time through and maybe even the next. He cautioned that such a move is not his call, though, so we’ll have to wait and see how that works out.
While we don’t yet know who that sixth man will be — and Hickey did say it could easily be someone “who’s not here yet” — we can rule out Yu Darvish. The Cubs have been somewhat mum on the topic of Darvish’s recovery from a recurrence of the triceps pain that has sidelined him since May 20, but Hickey did say that the righty had been playing long toss at 105 feet prior to the break and that he was in Chicago to work with the team’s trainers this week.
There’s normally a 10-14 day time between playing catch and getting onto the mound, Hickey said, so it’s possible we’ll see Darvish take the bump for a throwing session next week. From there, it’s probably a couple more weeks to work up to a sim game or rehab start. Hickey had said a couple weeks back that the team was hoping for a late-July return for Darvish, but this recent information seems to put mid-August as a more plausible (and still optimistic) target.
Though he didn’t really share anything groundbreaking, Hickey’s candor is always refreshing. He’s not mincing words or talking around questions, he’s just giving you the straight dope. Keep an eye on those mechanical changes he mentioned with Hendricks when you’re watching Thursday’s game. And keep an ear on Hickey in the future as well.