When Kyle Hendricks toed the rubber for the first time this year, his plan was to throw his secondary pitches to give him a lethal four-pitch arsenal.
After getting hit hard in that season debut, the No. 15 Cubs prospect decided to stick with what got him there in the first place. Three weeks into the season, less is proving to be more.
Hendricks (3-1) allowed two hits and two walks over six innings in the Triple-A Iowa Cubs' 5-1 win over the visiting Round Rock Express on Monday. He struck out six batters and threw 61 of 89 pitches for strikes before turning over the lead to the bullpen.
"I think I threw the ball real well today," said Hendricks, originally selected by the Rangers in the eighth round of the 2011 Draft. "My last three starts have all been pretty solid. In my first start, I was trying to develop my cutter and curveball, but I've gone back to doing what I did last year and that's throwing my two-seam fastball and changeup.
"They're not too far behind right now, but I have realized they're my third and fourth pitches and that I can't get beat on those. When it's a tough situation, I have to go back to my two-seam and changeup."
The 24-year-old struggled in his season debut against Memphis on April 5 (seven runs over 4 2/3 innings), but he has picked up victories in each of his past three starts at home to Nashville, New Orleans and now Round Rock.
Hendricks has struck out 25 batters and issued seven walks over 24 2/3 innings to start the year, holding hitters to a .195 average. The only two hits he allowed Monday came on a get-it-over curveball to Brett Nicholas and a fastball up and in to Alex Buchholz that dropped in for a hit.
"I can't really rank it," the Dartmouth product said of the start. "I just try to go outing to outing. [Round Rock pitching coach] Brad Holman was a huge part of my development when I was in high-A with Myrtle Beach in 2012 before I got traded, so I was happy to pitch well and show him I have kept growing."
The 6-foot-3 right-hander was acquired by the Cubs with infielder Christian Villanueva from the Rangers for pitcher Ryan Dempster on July 31, 2012.
Hendricks got a glimpse of the PCL at the end of 2013 following a promotion from Tennessee, where he went 10-3 and led the Southern League with a 1.85 ERA. He went 3-1 with a 2.48 mark in six starts with the Cubs, giving him a combined 13-4 record and 2.00 ERA -- both of which ranked first in the organization -- for the season.
"They are very different," Hendricks said of the two levels. "It is a bit of a jump. There are a lot of young hitters, good hitters, at Double-A, but there are more veteran hitters at Triple-A. They will change their approach to what you're doing."
Iowa center fielder Matt Szczur went 3-for-4 with a triple, an RBI and a run scored and second baseman Arismendy Alcantara was 2-for-4 with a solo homer and two runs scored.
"With the guys we have in the lineup, we're always just one swing away," Hendricks said. "Alcantara and [Javier] Baez and [Chris] Coghlan really have power. [Catcher] Eli Whiteside did a great job calling the game behind the plate ... and the defense made some great plays on some tough ground balls, especially Villanueva at third base."
Round Rock starter Scott Baker (3-1) allowed two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five batters over seven innings.