The Cubs haven’t been getting the same kind of dominant starting pitching they’ve received from their rotation at times this season. But the sign of a great team is one group of guys picking up another. And that’s what happened Friday.
Kyle Hendricks wasn’t bad by any stretch, but he lasted just five innings after going 3 1/3 innings and 5 1/3 innings in his previous two starts. The offense and the bullpen picked up their starting pitcher, though, with the offense erasing a 3-1 deficit and the bullpen tossing four scoreless frames in the Cubs’ 5-3 win over the Braves at Wrigley Field.
Hendricks was in trouble early, as the first three hitters reached base and the Braves had a run in a hurry in the first inning. But Hendricks retired the next three batters, keeping Atlanta to just one run. After Chris Coghlan tied the game with a first-inning solo shot, Hendricks was hit again, tagged for another pair of runs on a two-run double by Nick Markakis in the fourth.
Though his outing wasn’t very lengthy, Hendricks and his manager felt good about the way he pitched. They were particularly pleased with Friday’s performance in the wake of his last start, when he gave up five runs in just 3 1/3 innings.
“I felt a big improvement, honestly. That’s why it’s still a little frustrating, giving up three runs,” Hendricks said. “But in the end, I am happy. It did feel 100 times better. My arm felt more free, more on line. I made a lot more good pitches. I wasn’t expecting it to be 100 percent first start after we’d been working on it. But hopefully we can turn it around pretty quickly.”
“First inning, little bit sketchy, but he did settle into that,” Joe Maddon said. “I saw better down angle, I saw him get the ball down better, you saw some called strikes that they didn’t like, which normally means that the ball is moving at the last moment back over the plate. I thought game in progress, leading into his next start, he’s got to feel good about it. He’s starting to feel where it had been, and it’s going to benefit us next time out.”
After Hendricks’ opposite, Braves starter Shelby Miller, dominated the Cubs over the first four innings, the Cubs put on their comeback shoes. A Pedro Ciriaco throwing error allowed Miguel Montero to score the Cubs’ second run in the fifth. And after Anthony Rizzo walked with one out in the sixth, he came around to score and tie the game at 3 on a Kris Bryant double. Bryant came home on the next pitch, which Montero blasted into the right-center field gap for the go-ahead RBI. Rizzo drove in Addison Russell in the seventh to make it 5-3.
Meanwhile, the Bullpen shut down the Braves, with four different pitchers throwing four scoreless innings and retiring 12 of the 14 hitters they faced.
It’s just another one of those come-from behind wins, something that the Cubs are making a habit in this winning season.
“It’s a good feeling. We’ve done it a lot this year,” Bryant said. “And I think that makes a great team, the ability to come from behind. We did that today. We had some really good at-bats that (sixth) inning, and our pitchers, our bullpen did a great job. Was definitely a really good win for us.”
Back to the starting staff for a moment, which has been a bugaboo of late for the North Siders. Rocky outings from Hendricks, Jason Hammel, Dan Haren and even Jon Lester have worried some who think the unit that has carried the Cubs to this point might be their downfall as the playoff race heats up.
Friday wasn’t exactly an ugly start from Hendricks, but it wasn’t a gem, either, the kind of efforts this rotation was turning in on a regular basis earlier in the season.
Maddon, as he’s stated all along, isn’t worried. And he actually thinks that a brief outing for Hendricks on Friday could benefit him and the team in the long run.
“They’re healthy, and they’re not overworked,” Maddon said of his rotation. “They were on a nice roll, hit a bit of a speed bump, but we’re going to get back on a good roll because they’re healthy and they’re not overextended. That’s what I look at. … I’m always looking at that stuff. And people are like, ‘Why does it really matter, 10 or 15 pitches?’ Well, in a cumulative situation, it does. In September, when the games get hot — hot being that the games are big, regarding you have to get that particular win — and the guy’s going to be fresh or not fresh. I want the fresh guy.”
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The Cubs boast one of baseball’s best win-loss records, and a playoff spot is certainly within their grasp. So as a bunch of youngsters who have never experienced the playoff chase before embark on the final 42 games of the regular season, are they feeling the pressure?
“We’re going out there, we expect to win,” Hendricks said. “And when you have that kind of confidence, the moment doesn’t really get to you.”