ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs have downplayed the need for a prototypical leadoff man and have opted to go the power route, inserting slugger Anthony Rizzo at the top of the lineup. It's worked pretty well so far.Rizzo belted his third homer in his last four games and took advantage
ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs have downplayed the need for a prototypical leadoff man and have opted to go the power route, inserting slugger Anthony Rizzo at the top of the lineup. It's worked pretty well so far.
Rizzo belted his third homer in his last four games and took advantage of an error to score the tiebreaking run and Kyle Hendricks looked like his old self as he struck out eight over seven innings in the Cubs' 5-2 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday night at Busch Stadium.
Benjamin Zobrist had four hits and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle and Javier Baez hit a two-run double to raise his RBI total to 79 as the Cubs avoided being swept.
Hendricks had not pitched more than five innings in any of his last three starts. He benefited from the offense. The right-hander did serve up a two-run homer to Marcell Ozuna in the first but retired the last 17 in a row for the win. Hendricks also got some help on defense, including a diving catch by Zobrist in right to rob William Fowler of a hit and end the seventh.
"My mindset was better, [I was] aggressive in the strike zone," Hendricks said. "Even in the first inning, I made a couple bad pitches. After that, mechanics settled in, I started repeating it better. It's just bringing the two together, repeating my mechanics from the first pitch in the first inning but keeping that same mindset, being aggressive in the strike zone, getting quicker outs. I still got in some 3-2 counts but the mindset was better."
If the Cubs could figure out some way to get him through the first inning, the right-hander will be fine.
"One thing about Hendricks, he has a high ERA in the first inning," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "We tried to take advantage of that, and we did. He settled in and started making some real quality pitches, started getting his changeup going, which I thought was his best pitch. He got guys off balance and did a nice job."
How different is it? Hendricks has an 8.59 ERA in the first inning, giving up 10 home runs over 22 innings. After that, he has a 3.00 ERA and has given up nine home runs over 105 innings.
"It bit us again, it bit him again. I know it's going to change at one point," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He had better tempo, better pitches, game in progress. I did not want him leaving that game not feeling good about himself."
Rizzo is feeling pretty good lately. He has 17 hits since the All-Star break and is 11 away from 1,000 in his career. His home run was No. 180 with the Cubs, and he's in sole possession of 12th on the team's all-time home run list. Next up is Alfonso Soriano, who hit 181 with the team.
Maddon moved Rizzo to the top of the lineup July 13. At that point, he was batting .236. Since then, Rizzo is 23-for-56 (.411) with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
"I like the way it's playing," Maddon said. "Since the break, it's looked pretty good."
"We don't have the prototypical leadoff guy, we don't have that speed burner to set the whole thing up so don't try to force it," Maddon said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Opportunity knocks: The game was tied at 2 and Rizzo was at first with two outs in the fifth when Zobrist lined a double down the left-field line off Austin Gomber, who had just entered in place of starter John Gant. Jason Heyward then hit a grounder to second baseman Yairo Munoz, but he couldn't get a grip on the ball and Rizzo scored on the fielding error. Baez followed with his two-run double to open a 5-2 lead. Baez is the first middle infielder to reach 21 homers and 79 RBIs by July 31 since the Giants' Jeff Kent did so in 2000 (24 homers, 89 RBIs).
Good move: The Cardinals had runners at first and third and one out in the eighth against C.J. Edwards when Yadier Molina flied out to right field. Munoz was on third and broke for home but hustled back to third as Heyward fired home to catcher Willson Contreras. Heyward had just moved to right field after starting the game in center. Edwards then struck out Paul DeJong to end the inning.
"The first part is that, obviously, Heyward has a good arm and I couldn't risk that," Munoz said. "With having DeJong [come up] as our third hitter, I didn't want to get thrown out at the plate."
Said Maddon: "We had really good defense, guys were flying around all over the place. It was a good defensive night."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Rookie David Bote made two stellar barehanded grabs, getting Jedd Gyorko out to open the fourth and then robbing Ozuna of a possible infield hit leading off the ninth. The latter play amazed Maddon.
"That play -- I don't know how he did it," Maddon said. "I want to watch the video. He went far, got underneath it and made a strong throw. That's as good a play as a third baseman is going to make."
Bote, who is subbing for Kristopher Bryant as he nurses a sore left shoulder, actually was miffed that the 1 hour, 16 minute rain delay before the game started prohibited him from being able to take any ground balls on the field.
"I was waiting to see if [shortstop Addison Russell] was going to call it off," Bote said of the Ozuna play. "My thing at third is to get everything I can. I didn't hear anything so I went full speed and I got it."
HE SAID IT
"We've got Jon [Lester] up next and hopefully he can keep this momentum. With [Cole] Hamels, I think he'll bring a lot of energy just seeing something new out there. I think he'll lift all of us up a little bit. We can all learn from him; he's been around. I'm really excited to watch him throw on Wednesday. Hopefully, these last two months we can rattle off some good starts." -- Hendricks
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With one out in the Chicago fifth, Bote hit a grounder to third baseman Gyorko, who threw to first baseman Matt Carpenter. Bote was called safe but the Cardinals challenged the ruling. After a review, the call stood.
Lester will open a two-game series against the Pirates, starting Tuesday. The best thing about Lester's last outing was that he didn't walk anyone. He also lasted six-plus innings, which is what the Cubs needed. He's 7-1 with a 3.16 ERA on the road this season and 2-0 with a 4.00 in three starts against the Pirates. First pitch from PNC Park is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.