ATLANTA — A solid bullpen stocked with veteran depth has allowed the Cubs to practice some risk aversion with right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
The 25-year-old starting pitcher has a solid 3.44 ERA over 18 starts this year, though he rarely pitches deep into games. He’s averaging about six innings and 87 pitches per start and has thrown 100 or more pitches in only two outings.
Hendricks is an efficient pitcher who rarely walks batters or gives up home runs, but manager Joe Maddon is less willing to unleash him deep into games than he is with other starters. Opposing hitters have a .333 batting average and .907 OPS when facing Hendricks for a third time, compared to slash lines of .250/.288/.375 and .203/.238/.314 the first and second times through the order, respectively.
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On Friday, Maddon pulled Hendricks with two out in the sixth so he could have Justin Grimm face A.J. Pierzynski, a matchup the Cubs manager thought was better than letting Hendricks face the former White Sox catcher.
“With our bullpen as strong as it is, I know we got plenty of guys behind me,” Hendricks said. “I definitely want to get deep in games but more importantly it’s not giving in, keeping the team in the game and not just trying to throw strikes.”
Instead of just trying to get the ball over the plate, Hendricks feels comfortable challenging hitters to make weak contact with the knowledge that if his pitch count gets high, the guys behind him can take care of the game.
Hendricks pitched into the eighth July 5 (91 pitches) and fired seven scoreless innings July 10 (90 pitches), and both of those starts came in close games. His 3.02 ERA over 31 major league starts has earned him a certain level of trust, though not to the level of fellow right-hander Jake Arrieta, who’s often afforded the opportunity to work late into games.
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Arrieta, for comparison, has a 1.65 ERA in innings seven though nine this year and opposing hitters have a .211 batting average and .610 OPS against him when facing him for the third time. But Arrieta has a mid-90’s fastball and a curveball hitters swing and miss at nearly 20 percent of the time. Hendricks relies on a sinker/changeup combination and lives between the low and upper 80’s.
There’s an added benefit to Maddon picking his spots with Hendricks, though. If the Cubs are still in the playoff race come September, the right-hander may not have as much mileage on his arm as other second-year starters in similar situations.
“You’re looking about September, man,” Maddon said. “And a guy like him, if you can keep him spiffy in September, that’s going to benefit you in the stretch run.”
The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.
The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.
The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.
Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:
- The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
- One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
- Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
- The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
- The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
- The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.
It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.
Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit.
Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini.
The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.
The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.
Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.
Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.