CHICAGO — Kyle Hendricks tops out at about 88 mph. He looks and talks more like a college professor than a professional baseball player. He is among the most anonymous players on the star-studded Chicago Cubs.
He also is the Game 1 starter for the defending World Series champions.
Hendricks gets the ball Friday night when Chicago visits the Washington Nationals for the opener of their NL Division Series. He also started its previous postseason game, helping the Cubs win in Cleveland in Game 7 for their first championship since 1908.
"Excited to get out there," Hendricks said Wednesday. "You're going to have a little bit of butterflies for sure, but I think it's just that excited feeling. This is what you live for. This is the time of year that you want to be playing and we're ready for it."
Manager Joe Maddon also announced Jon Lester will start Game 2 on Saturday in Washington, followed by Jose Quintana in Game 3 at Wrigley Field and Jake Arrieta in Game 4, if necessary.
Lester started the opener in each of Chicago's three playoff series last year, but he missed part of August with tightness in his left lat and general shoulder fatigue and struggled down the stretch before finishing strong.
The Nationals haven't announced their rotation, but Stephen Strasburg seems like the most likely option for Game 1. Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer tweaked his right hamstring in his final regular-season start, and it's unclear when he might be able to pitch in the series.
"We're a unit as a group out there, as our starting staff," said Lester, who is 9-7 with a 2.63 ERA in 22 career playoff games. "I'm not by any means mad. I'm not upset. Wasn't going to be a Game 1 starter, opening-day starter for the rest of my career, so I mean at some point somebody's got to take it over.
"I'm really, really happy for (Hendricks). I think he was a guy that probably threw the ball the best on our staff as far as start to finish last year, including the playoffs, and nobody even talks about him."
Arrieta, who strained his right hamstring on Sept. 4 and missed his final regular-season start to rest up for the playoffs, threw a bullpen session Wednesday, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said it went well. Game 4 would be Tuesday, exactly two weeks after Arrieta last appeared in a major league game.
"Had Jake been well the whole time, this order would have been different, no question," Maddon said. "But we just feel it's wise to give him the most time to rest his leg before we have to pitch him."
Hendricks was acquired by Chicago in the 2012 deadline trade that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers — an under-the-radar move that helped fuel the Cubs' run to three straight playoff appearances.
The 27-year-old right-hander, who has a degree in economics from Dartmouth, broke out in a big way last season. He went 16-8 with a major league-low 2.13 ERA and then posted a 1-1 record with a 2.38 ERA in seven playoff starts, beating Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in Chicago's clinching win in the NLCS.
He doesn't have a big arm like most playoff pitchers, but he doesn't make many mistakes, either.
"He's one of those guys that you just have to really stay in your zone and hunt a pitch in your zone because if you don't, he does such a good job of throwing marginal balls and marginal strikes that look good, and if you swing at those, you're going to be out," Washington second baseman Daniel Murphy said.
Hendricks missed part of June and July with pain in the middle finger of his right hand, but he had a 2.19 ERA in his final 13 starts after the All-Star break. He is 2-2 with a 2.67 ERA in five career starts against Washington.
"He's not that guy that lights up the gun. He knows how to pitch," Maddon said. "You talk to a lot of different pitching coaches, a lot of different managers, even some GMs that I've spoken with, he's their favorite, I think probably because of the style of his pitching."