Photos of Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks.
Hendricks stares into the sun rising over the Superstition Mountains each morning balancing himself on one leg.
While his teammates are throwing early bullpen sessions or eating breakfast, Hendricks performs yoga on the balcony of the Cubs’ spring training complex with instructor Christine Schwan.
The workouts bring a sense of balance and calm that Hendricks says applies to any situation – whether it’s a bases-loaded jam or arm fatigue.
"It teaches you about the next task," Hendricks said. "You’re always focused on what’s next — the next pitch, the next situation. Yoga helps you in the flow of things. I got into my routine, and it helped me break things down."
Hendricks, 27, quelled doubts about his stamina by pitching a career-high 190 innings during the regular season and 25 1/3 innings in the postseason.
The next step for Hendricks is making sure that the rest of his body and mind are stronger if his arm lacks zip.
"From the physical aspects, it’s just keeping the body evened out," Hendricks said. "I gained plenty of flexibility, and it’s a good warmup in the morning. But I think the biggest positive for me is the mental and breathing part of it, having to move your body and being in this calm moment. It helps slow things down in game and keeps the pressure from building up in certain situations."
That showed last year as Hendricks limited opponents to a .184 batting average with runners in scoring position — third lowest mark among qualifying NL pitchers.
Hendricks said he only dabbled in yoga until last spring, when he and Cubs minor league pitcher Dallas Beeler decided to take classes offered before workouts.
Hendricks immediately liked the routine of getting loose, and the discipline of balancing his body.
Hendricks’ pre-start routine includes some yoga and has caught the attention of noted Pilates maven Jake Arrieta.
"It’s not an extended routine but something he probably uses to get his mind right as well as lengthen his muscles and prepare himself to execute on the mound," Arrieta, who meshes yoga exercises with his Pilates drills, said. "It’s fun to watch. I’m really glad he’s gravitated toward something like that."
Hendricks, listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, gets nearly as much mileage out of his frame as the well-chiseled Arrieta, who is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds.
"A lot of guys don’t realize you don’t have to lift heavy weight all the time," Arrieta said. "You just don’t. It’s not even debatable anymore. Heavy weight is OK at times, but the heavier weight you lift, the more risk of injury. The higher risk of injury is a direct correlation. I think there’s a smart way to go about it. Doing yoga every day is high on the list as far as how to put stress on your joints in a positive way and also build strength around those joints."
After allowing five runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings against the White Sox on Aug. 14, 2015, an agitated Hendricks worked with pitching coach Chris Bosio in the U.S. Cellular Field outfield on finding the proper balance in his delivery.
"That was a big turning point," Hendricks said. "My backside was collapsing and my arm was dragging. I was able to kick that into gear and get that bad habit out of the way. And now yoga has helped me."