A few hours before Kyle Hendricks took the mound, the Cubs announced concerning news for the Cubs rotation: Left-hander Jose Quintana was headed to the injured list with left lat inflammation.
In the context of a dwindling rotation and a packed upcoming schedule, Hendricks’ performance Wednesday held even more weight. He delivered in the Cubs’ 8-2 win over the Pirates at PNC Park, allowing just one run in six innings.
“He was fighting himself a couple innings there mechanically,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He's usually a little more down in the zone. He was up a little bit, things were flat. And still, look at how he pitched.
“That's, to me, why he's so good, is that even when he's not as sharp as he can be, he finds a way to get outs. He finds ways throws strikes. He doesn't walk guys. He’s not going to put himself in a lot of trouble.”
With the exception of Yu Darvish, who was named Player of the Month for August, the Cubs’ rotation has hit a rough patch over the last two weeks. Even Hendricks allowed five runs on 10 hits in his last outing at Cincinnati.
Then on Tuesday, the Cubs placed right-hander Tyler Chatwood on the IL with a right forearm strain. Quintana was expected to replace him in the rotation, but the next day Quintana joined Chatwood.
“You hate to see it,” Hendricks said, “especially guys like Chatty and Q that have worked so hard, they do everything right.”
Hendricks’ one-run outing was a refreshing positive for the Cubs rotation.
The right-hander said his changeup and his timing haven’t “felt right” in his last two outings. The results of that showed up in the second inning, when Hendricks gave up a solo home run to Colin Moran and a double to Gregory Polanco.
“The first thing that I told him was he was rushing,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. “… He got much better as the game went on.”
Hendricks allowed just three more hits in the next four innings, all singles.
The play that stood out to Ross was one he suspects will “go unnoticed.”
In the third, Hendricks walked Adam Frazier to lead off the inning. But then, Hendricks picked him off.
“There's nice heads up play on the mound,” Ross said.
The next batter, Kevin Newman, grounded out to first. So, by the time cleanup hitter Josh Bell stepped up to the plate, there were no runners on and two outs. Hendricks struck him out.
By the sixth inning, Hendricks’ timing felt the best it had all game. He retired the side in order.
“Hopefully I can build on that,” Hendricks said. “I got some positives to take out of it.”