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As time flies for Kyle Hendricks, confidence builds for Cubs

CHICAGO -- Two of the most humble of Chicago Cubs prospects took center stage on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

First, slugger Kris Bryant was honored as the team’s minor league player of the year. Then, last year’s minor league pitcher of the year, Kyle Hendricks, took the mound and threw yet another gem in beating the Cincinnati Reds 3-1.

“He’s pitched extremely well and put himself in a good place in the organization,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said afterward. “He goes out and prepares and is very professional.”

It’s the same thought that comes to mind with Bryant. The two of them simply get the job done with little fanfare. It wasn’t lost on Hendricks how far he has come since being honored at Wrigley last September just as Bryant and Class A pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng were before the win on Wednesday. It crossed his mind during pregame presentations for the two prospects.

“I thought, this exact time last year I was here just watching,” Hendricks said. “It’s crazy how fast it happens. They tell us that when we’re in the minor leagues: ‘Just keep working because when you make it, you’ll look back and say it went fast.’ It definitely has. It’s been a good ride.”

It has been just as good ride for those that have had the pleasure to watch Hendricks work. He got into some trouble throughout his seven innings on Wednesday, but the most important pitches were his best ones, as usual.

After a mishandled ball by Javier Baez allowed runners at second and third in a 2-1 game in the sixth inning, he got Donald Lutz to foul out to Welington Castillo, who made a nice play on the ball near the stands. Chris Coghlan helped him out of a jam the next inning with a leaping catch against the wall in left to end the inning.

A case can be made Hendricks will receive better defense throughout his career because his pace on the mound is ideal. The game moves.

“It’s fun to play behind,” Coghlan said. “He’s got a quick tempo. You always enjoy that as a fielder.”

It hasn’t just been Hendricks who has been impressive on the mound. Yes, the Cubs swept an anemic Reds team, but giving up just one run in 27 innings is impressive at any level against any competition. Cubs’ pitching has held up despite massive turnover for two years.

“That’s just depth,” Renteria said. “When you have depth it creates an environment where you’re competing to pitching yourself in a better position. The depth allows you to create competition. We’re seeing parts of it.”

Travis Wood, Jake Arrieta and Hendricks shut down the Reds this week and should be three key starters going into 2015.

Wood needs to find his game for more than one start, but at least he has shown the ability having been an all-star before. In the span of just a couple of months, the Cubs’ starting staff has a greater positive vibe than anyone could have imagined after the trades of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

It’s still a work in progress, but thanks to performances like the ones we keep seeing out of Hendricks, the cupboard might not be all that bare. His ERA is a dandy 2.28.

“He has a good mix of secondary pitches,” Renteria said. “Every time he goes out there, do I feel a sense of comfort and expect he’s going to have a nice outing? Yeah, I do. I think everybody does.”