Chicago Cubs Lineup (3/19/24): Regular Season Lineup(?), Hendricks Starting

After taking Monday off to recover from celebrating the memory of St. Patrick chasing all the snakes out of the Emerald Isle, the Cubs are back at it with a rare evening game against a group of desert-dwelling rattlers. With just eight days left in the exhibition slate, Craig Counsell will be managing these next few games with more focus on prepping for the regular season.

That starts with stretching Kyle Hendricks out and having him continue to hone his pitch mix, something we saw his last time out. After needing 52 and 58 pitches to record nine and 10 outs respectively in his two previous outings, Hendricks retired 11 Guardians on 29 pitches (21 strikes) six days ago. He struck out three and had two walks, but didn’t hit a batter for the first time all spring.

Hendricks is at his best when he’s pitching to contact and working efficiently, even if that means his strikeouts will be down. Limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground are the big keys for him, and we saw how rough things could be when he struggled with those facets in 2021 and ’22. I love watching him work when he’s on.

The lineup today looks very much like one we’ll see in the regular season, which makes the designated hitter mildly interesting in light of impending roster decisions. Nico Hoerner leads off at second, followed by Seiya Suzuki in right and Cody Bellinger in center. Christopher Morel is at third, Dansby Swanson is at short, Ian Happ is in left, and Yan Gomes is the catcher. Michael Busch is at first and Dominic Smith bats ninth as the DH.

That last spot is obviously the one in flux, as either Smith or Dominic Cooper could end up breaking camp with the big club. It’s interesting that they’re going with the lefty-batting Smith over the right-handed Cooper, especially when the former has mild splits and the latter is a little more traditional. I’d take Cooper if forced to choose right now, but it’s not my decision and it doesn’t need to be made immediately.

Going for the Diamondbacks is 30-year-old southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez, who is in his first season with Arizona after nearly a decade between Boston and Detroit. Rodriguez is like the poster child for solid, unspectacular performance over the course of his career. His ERA is just over 4.00, he strikes out about one batter per inning and allows just over three walks and a homer every nine innings.

What’s more, his 92 mph fastball is right around league average and most of his Statcast metrics are in the 40th-60th percentile. His value stats, however, are all very high. Rodriguez throws the fastball about 45% of the time and pairs it well with a cutter that’s about three ticks slower and can be thrown to either edge of the zone. His change stays arm-side and really lights up that lower corner of the zone.

He may be significantly better than the numbers indicate and could benefit tremendously from being healthy and consistent for a little while. Like Hendricks, it looks like Rodriguez started to dial things in during his last start after a pair of rough outings. The Cubs had trouble with good changeups late last season, so I’m interested to see how they fare in this one.

First pitch from Sloan Park is at 8:05pm CT on Marquee Sports Network and 670 The Score.

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