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Cubs' Theo Epstein: Kyle Hendricks Has 'Earned The Right To Go Deeper In Games'

(CBS) Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks has been one of baseball's best pitchers for the past two years.

That breakout started in 2016, when Hendricks won MLB's ERA crown. What the breakout didn't earn Hendricks was a long leash from manager Joe Maddon on the big stage of the playoffs.

Several times in the postseason, Hendricks was pulled while encountering middle-innings trouble despite otherwise solid outings. That included in Game 3 of the World Series, when he threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings but was removed with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, a jam the Cubs got out of after Maddon's decision. It also included Game 7 of the World Series, when Hendricks was pulled after 4 2/3 innings, having allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits and a walk.

From the sounds of president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, there will be more trust in Hendricks this time around. That should start Friday, when Hendricks takes the mound against the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Hendricks was 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA this season, including a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.

"Kyle is someone, we made a concerted effort this year because for whatever reason he hadn't been someone before this season who had been consistently allowed to pitch deep in games," Epstein said on the Spiegel and Parkins Show on 670 The Score. "We all felt like he had earned that or deserved that, so he was kind of given the benefit of the doubt a little bit more this year on purpose. You saw some deeper starts. Obviously, he had some struggles early and then the finger issue, but I think he's someone who's earned the right to go deeper in games. He's still effective. He's not someone who relies on power, and I think he's earned the right to get himself out of jams."

Epstein added the caveat that if the Cubs have matchups with their relievers they like against the Nationals, they may "aggressively" follow that plan. But the point remains that in a vacuum, Hendricks has earned more trust.

"Kyle is certainly someone we're not looking to pull early or get out of the game," Epstein said. "He's really good and sometimes he gets locked in and gets stronger as the game goes on and he develops his feel."

Maddon also hinted at having more confidence in Hendricks this year.

"It just depends, it depends on how it's going," Maddon said. "You can pull guys if you have the right guys behind that guy. If you don't have the same kind of backup, then you might not be able to do the same thing. Every situation is different. Right now, I anticipate him pitching well into this game on Friday night. I think he's there. I think he's there emotionally, physically, mentally. So every game is different, man. It's not like you set out to do that (pull him early). We just talked about, I thought last year he really established himself by pitching well more deeply into the games. I have all the confidence in the world. We all do have the confidence in Kyle."

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