'Win day': Hendricks heads shutout in finale
Cubs righty victorious in seventh consecutive start, backed by Báez's homer
NEW YORK -- When Kyle Hendricks starts these days, the Cubs tend to walk off the field with a win. So there was no more welcome sight Thursday night than Hendricks taking the ball at Citi Field, where Chicago emerged with a 2-0 victory to salvage the final game of its four-game set against the Mets.
Hendricks won his seventh consecutive start, throwing six scoreless innings against a Mets team that had beaten the Cubs in three straight games. Hendricks limited the Mets to two hits and two walks, striking out seven to improve to 9-4 this season.
“He’s the backbone of our rotation,” manager David Ross said. “It’s starting to be that win day -- that you feel like when he pitches, you’ve got a really good chance to win.”
Javier Báez provided the offense for the Cubs, blasting a two-run home run against Marcus Stroman in the first inning to stake Hendricks to a quick lead. Stroman blanked the Cubs after the early strike, completing seven innings.
“Javy giving us that two-run lead early was huge,” Hendricks said. “With how they play in this home ballpark and how they pitch, getting an early lead was huge in this game.”
Kris Bryant returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with a right hand contusion, going 1-for-4 with a first-inning single that immediately preceded Báez’s home run.
But, as Ross said after the win, “Kyle is the story of the day.”
“Probably not the sharpest you've seen him and he doesn't even give up any runs,” Ross added. “Nice, gutsy performance by Kyle there; we needed that.”
Thursday’s outing gave Hendricks a 7-0 record with a 2.54 ERA over his past seven starts. It’s almost hard to believe this is the same pitcher that opened the season 1-3 with a 7.54 ERA in five April starts, but Hendricks has overcome that awful month to become the pacesetter atop the rotation for the first-place Cubs.
“At the beginning of the season, my timing was off; I was late coming out of my glove, so everything was flat,” Hendricks said. “Everything was flat, it was all up in the zone, and I was leaving a lot of pitches [in the] middle. I made those adjustments that I needed to, but it's a continual process. Mentally, it's kind of calmed down, too. When you don't trust it physically, you know you don't trust your stuff, it's hard going out there mentally to commit to a pitch every time.”
After Báez staked the Cubs to the first-inning lead, Jonathan Villar led off the bottom of the first with a double. Hendricks struck out Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso, then got Dominic Smith to line out to first base, stranding the runner at second. Billy McKinney hit a one-out double in the home half of the second, but Hendricks retired the next two batters, leaving the Mets 0-for-5 with a runner in scoring position in the first two innings.
But it wasn’t until the fourth inning that things came close to unraveling, as Hendricks walked Alonso and Smith to start the frame.
“Those two walks were terrible, but they spit on some good pitches,” Hendricks said. “I didn't really mis-execute, so it just was more of the same; just go to the next pitch, make some big pitches to get out of there.”
Hendricks did just that, inducing a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of James McCann, then retiring McKinney on a soft tapper that Willson Contreras fielded and fired to first, ending the Mets’ threat.
That started a run of eight straight outs for Hendricks, who then turned the lead over to the bullpen after the sixth. Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel took it from there, each throwing a perfect inning as the Cubs retired the final 17 Mets batters to close the game.
“It was nice to be able to go to those guys and lock it down,” Hendricks said. “That's a really nice performance from our pitching staff.”