By Bruce Levine

By Bruce Levine–

MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) — Yu Darvish may have signed a six-year, $126-million deal with the Cubs this offseason, but he won’t be taking the ball in the second game of the season after ace Jon Lester gets the Opening Day nod on March 29.

Filling the role of No. 2 in the rotation will be right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who opened his spring with a win by throwing two innings in his team’s 7-5 victory against the Athletics on Wednesday. Hendricks allowed two runs, both unearned, on one hit, a homer, and struck out three.

Hendricks, 28, has earned his standing as the team’s No. 2 starter. He’s pitched in many big games for the Cubs, including the National League Championship Series clincher and Game 7 of the World Series in the team’s championship run of 2016. He’s also been consistent and impressive over the past four seasons, with a 2.94 ERA since entering the big leagues in 2014.

Pitching behind Lester and ahead of Darvish is an honor that Hendricks appreciates.

“One hundred percent, this means a lot to me,” Hendricks said Wednesday. “I never look at those things as goals obviously. But if that is happening, that means the goals I have set for myself are coming true. I am putting in the work, and the results are coming. I am so lucky to be in this system and have these guys around. Not only the players but the coaching staff who has taught me so much.”

After missing about six weeks with a strain of the middle finger on his pitching hand in 2017, Hendricks has a new routine in between starts that will prevent any ailments in the future.

“There was nothing traumatic that happened to the finger,” Hendricks said. “After going to the doctor, he had seen a couple cases of it. The only thing he said was higher reps were the cause of it from every pitcher it had happened to. That made sense to me, because it was a point were my mechanics were not solid and I was throwing more between starts.”

The new routine features Hendricks throwing 30 pitches on his first side session between starts and simply 15 the day before. He had been in the 45 and 20/25 range in the past, respectively.

“I was always a guy who threw a lot, so I think it was a blessing in disguise,” Hendricks said. “I know what to change now and just to keep the reps normal even if I get out of my mechanics.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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