Two home runs were hardly the story of Kyle Hendricks’ outing in Saturday’s loss to the visiting St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
Hendricks did allow a pair of solo roundtrippers to Cardinals hitters Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko, but outside of those two pitches, he continued to pitch in the sensational fashion that’s made him the most dominant pitcher on a starting staff with multiple All Stars, including the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner.
Hendricks matched a career high with 12 strikeouts, looking especially strong early, when he struck out eight in the first two innings and had nine punch outs after four innings, not allowing any of the four Cardinals hitters who reached base past first. After a 1-2-3 fifth, Hendricks allowed those aforementioned home runs in the sixth and seventh innings, the latter of which tied the game at 2.
But in seven innings of work, Hendricks looked terrific.
“A lot of that’s based on confidence,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “He’s throwing the ball exactly where he wants to. I could see him pitching to the (scouting) report really well. That’s what he does. He was executing outstanding. The heavy (number of) strikeouts was a little bit of a surprise because they’ll move the baseball. That just tells you how much his stuff was on today. There were two elevated changeups to Moss and to Gyorko that caused the home runs, and that’s the pitch he normally never throws up there. So whatever happened happened, but he was great.”
“Today my changeup was good. Curveball was working pretty good, too. And good fastball command. I kind of had all three for a while there, was making good pitches,” Hendricks said. “Kind of the same old story with Willson (Contreras) back there, man, he was solid again. We were on the same page. Just two bad changeups really today, two changeups up. That was about it. Was hoping we could keep that winning streak going. But just start a new one tomorrow.”
Yes, the Cubs’ 11-game winning streak came to an end with Saturday’s loss, but the streak of great starts for Hendricks is still going strong. In his last 11 games (10 starts, thanks to a three-inning relief appearance thrown in there), he’s 7-1 with a 1.22 ERA, striking out 63 hitters compared to just nine earned runs allowed in 66 1/3 innings. The Cubs have an 8-3 record in those games.
Saturday, the bullpen and some silent Cubs bats washed Hendricks’ effort away in the 8-4 loss, relievers Carl Edwards Jr. and Joe Smith combining to give up six runs in the eighth and the Cubs offense doing almost nothing after a two-run second inning. But certainly Hendricks was fantastic, and it took him leaving the game for the Cardinals to mount a sustained threat.
“They’re aggressive usually. They were really aggressive today, too, a lot of first-pitch swings,” Hendricks said. “I was just trying to get ahead with some fastballs. I was able to do that. I was just missing a few bats, getting some foul balls instead of balls put in play today. So that was probably all it was.”
Hendricks has proven himself the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher at the moment, though it’s not like his teammates are far behind. Since the All-Star break, Cubs starting pitchers have been incredible. Dating back to the final game of the first half, Cubs starters have a 2.49 ERA in 180 2/3 innings.
“We’re still rolling, we’re feeling good with the group, passing the baton — whatever saying you want to use,” Hendricks said. “It just seems like we want that next guy to go out there and raise the bar a little higher, perform well.”