Cubs pick Kyle Hendricks to open NLDS against Nationals

Some of the Cubs' top brass made pitches to one another during a meeting Wednesday morning at Wrigley Field.

The group, which included President Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Chris Bosio, concluded that the man who started the team's last playoff game will start its next one.

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who started Game 7 of the World Series last year against the Indians, will lead the rotation going into the National League Division Series, which begins Friday against the Nationals in Washington.

Left-hander Jon Lester will start Game 2 Saturday, followed by fellow lefty Jose Quintana in Game 3 Monday and right-hander Jake Arrieta for Game 4, if necessary, Tuesday.

Though Hendricks earned the role, he wasn't always the team's No. 1 choice to be the No. 1 starter. Arrieta's ailing right hamstring and Lester's recent bout with left-shoulder soreness played into the equation.

"Anybody on this staff could be making that start," Hendricks said Wednesday before the team's workout at Wrigley. "I think it's just more logistics.

"(But) it's an honor. I'm going to take it in that way."

Maddon concurred, saying the order of the rotation likely would have been different if health had not been a concern.

Arrieta skipped his final start of the season to rest his hamstring. After missing two starts in September, the 31-year-old pitched twice more. He hasn't pitched since Sept. 26, when he allowed three earned runs and six hits in three innings.

Epstein said Arrieta "had a great day today," in reference to the side session he threw during Wednesday's workout. Quintana threw during the team's simulated game Wednesday.

Lester, who missed two starts at the end of August with his ailment, said his feelings weren't hurt about not receiving the nod for Game 1. He has started the first game of a playoff series nine times, including every postseason series for the Cubs during the last two years. He also started the 2014 American League wild-card game for the Athletics.

"I'm not by any means mad," said Lester, who has a 2.63 ERA in 22 career playoff starts. "I wasn't going to be a Game 1 starter, opening day starter for the rest of my career. I'm really, really happy for him.

"He probably threw the ball the best on our staff, start to finish, last year, including the playoffs. And nobody even talks about him."

Should the series against the Nationals reach five games, Maddon said both Hendricks and Lester would be candidates to start.

Hendricks is 3-2 with a 2.23 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 19 walks in 682/3 innings spanning his last 11 starts.

While injuries to other pitchers helped land Hendricks atop the playoff rotation, his own injury may have had something to do with him being there, too.

After some struggles early in the season, Hendricks found himself on the disabled list for nearly six weeks with tendinitis in his right middle finger. Before he was put on the DL, Hendricks was 4-3 with a 4.09 ERA.

"His velocity before that wasn't there," Maddon said. "It was 83-84 (mph) a lot. He came back and all of a sudden we're seeing 87, 88, 89 on his velocity.

"Whatever time he took off … definitely did help."

And helped him breathe some life into the pitching staff.

"You don't even know if his heart's beating out there half the time," Lester said.

The Nationals are expected to announce their starting rotation formally Thursday. It will be some combination of Stephen Strasberg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

pskrbina@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribSkrbina

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