HOUSTON -- In their final exhibition game of 2017, the Cubs prevailed over the Astros, 6-3, before 15,420 fans on Friday at Minute Maid Park.Most of the Cubs' scoring occurred in the fifth. Chicago loaded the bases against Tony Sipp, who was lifted for Ken Giles. Giles walked Matthew Szczur
HOUSTON -- In their final exhibition game of 2017, the Cubs prevailed over the Astros, 6-3, before 15,420 fans on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
Most of the Cubs' scoring occurred in the fifth. Chicago loaded the bases against Tony Sipp, who was lifted for Ken Giles. Giles walked Matthew Szczur to force in a run, and one out later, another run scored on a wild pitch. Chesny Young smacked a two-run single to center to put the Cubs up, 4-0.
Until that breakout inning, both offenses were kept in check by sharp starting pitching. Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks held the Astros scoreless through five, scattering two hits and walking one to lower his spring ERA to 1.66.
Hendricks won't pitch again until April 8 in Milwaukee, so he treated Friday's game as if it were his first start of the season. He went over a scouting report from last year with catcher Miguel Montero and did his same in-season pregame routine.
"I really tried to treat it like my first start, and it felt good," Hendricks said. "You feel a lot more comfortable taking the mound with an idea of what you're trying to do instead of just working on your stuff. It was good to have that."
The Cubs, who open the season Sunday night against the Cardinals, are ready to begin defense of the World Series championship.
"You could see it -- everyone was high levels in the breakfast room," Hendricks said. "There was a lot of yelling and screaming, guys were pumped up. We're finally to that day. You feel it building up, you feel it coming, you see a light at the end of the tunnel, but now, being the last day, flying to St. Louis, you feel it coming."
Houston righty Joe Musgrove, whose solid spring earned him a spot in the rotation, did not allow a run over four innings of work. He retired the first eight batters he faced before yielding back-to-back hits to Jonathan Jay and Kyle Schwarber with two outs in the third, but he struck out Kristopher Bryant to end the inning.
"I was really pleased with everything today," Musgrove said. "The slider was sharp. I had good fastball command. I was most pleased with my ability to command the top of the strike zone, which was kind of huge for me. That was the best I've felt all spring. I'm glad I'm going into the season feeling like this."
"He's very focused, especially for a young player to come up and command the game the way that he does," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. We wanted him to have four innings. For a while, we thought we were going to have to send him to the bullpen to get more pitches because he was so efficient. I thought he was really sharp."
The Astros scored their first runs in the sixth inning as Reid Brignac and pinch-hitter Yulieski Gurriel hit RBI singles.
Cubs Up Next: After a day off, the World Series-champion Cubs begin defense of their title on Sunday night against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Jonathan Lester gets the start, his second Opening Day assignment for the Cubs. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. CT.
Astros Up Next: When Dallas Keuchel takes the mound for Houston on Monday, he will become the first Astros left-hander to make three consecutive Opening Day starts. Last year, Keuchel logged the Opening Day win against the Yankees in New York, allowing two earned runs on three hits over seven innings.
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Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com and covered the Astros on Friday. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.