HOUSTON -- Kyle Hendricks gave the Cubs just what they needed on Wednesday. Home runs continued to fly out of the park at Minute Maid Park, but that’s nothing new. The Cubs, however, have never hit this many in a month before.
What mattered most is that Hendricks made them count. He put the finishing touches on one of the best months of his career by allowing one run and four hits in eight innings as the Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory over the Astros.
Steve Cishek came on in the ninth and tossed a clean inning for the save, and the Cubs are off on Thursday before beginning a weekend series in St. Louis on Friday.
“Today was the best I’ve felt mentally,” Hendricks said. “Just keep it simple. Make good pitches. Today, I really did that. There were only four pitches I didn’t execute.”
Three of those were to Astros center fielder Jake Marisnick, and they resulted in a groundout, a flyout and a foul ball. Hendricks hit Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos with the other one. In six starts this month, Hendricks is 4-0 with a 1.81 ERA. He has gone at least eight innings four times.
“It was the best execution I’ve had,” Hendricks said. “Willy [catcher Willson Contreras] and I were just locked in together. Same page all day long. That’s where I’ve got to stay going forward.”
Astros manager AJ Hinch was effusive in his praise of Hendricks, saying, “He’s just really good. He won [an ERA title, in 2016] for a reason. His ability to change speeds is elite, his execution is up there with as good as we’ve seen this year, being able to throw the ball nearly exactly where he wants to.
“I haven’t seen if he made any mistakes, but there weren’t many of them. Watching by the contact and disruption of timing, he’s just really good. We didn’t have very many guys who had at-bats against him. You kind of have to pick fastball, changeup, and then he throws a couple of slow breaking balls. He just never, never gives in. His execution on the corners, off the corners, inside, up, kind of picture-perfect art of pitching by him.”
Cubs starters had given up 18 earned runs in 15 innings in their last three games. But Hendricks was staked to a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning and made it stand up, striking out seven and stranding just two runners in scoring position.
Hendricks said watching the Astros' aggressive approach at home plate helped him prepare.
“I learned certain things,” he said. “Their aggressiveness. I could kind of tell the pace of the game and how aggressive they were trying to be in certain situations.”
As for the home runs, the Cubs were back at it again. Kyle Schwarber hit the third pitch of the game over the wall in left-center, and Kris Bryant followed with one two innings later in his return to the lineup. Schwarber's first-inning home run was his second career leadoff home run. He also hit one Friday against Cincinnati. It also gave the Cubs five players with at least 10 home runs in 54 games, a team record.
If you’re counting, that’s a team-record 51 home runs this month and eight straight games with multiple home runs. Until this month, the Cubs had never hit more than 48 home runs in a calendar month, that happening twice, in August 2004 and '17.
Bryant’s home run was Chicago's 23rd in just the last eight games. That’s all the Cubs got on Wednesday, but it was all they needed thanks to Hendricks.
Hendricks threw 108 pitches through eight innings and told manager Joe Maddon he had enough left in the tank to go back for the ninth. Maddon, trying to get his relievers back to a routine of pitching no more than one inning, went for Cishek.
“I really was off mechanically early [in the season],” Hendricks said. “I started to feel better physically, and that always helps your mental approach. I didn’t have to focus on the mechanics. I could just focus on the mental.”
Fan struck by foul ball
A young fan was struck by a foul ball off the bat of Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. and rushed from Minute Maid Park in the fourth inning on Wednesday.
“The young fan that was struck by a foul ball during tonight’s game was taken to the hospital,” the Astros said in a statement. “We are not able to disclose any further details at this time. The Astros send our thoughts and prayers to the entire family.”
A visibly shaken Almora immediately went down to one knee near home plate when he realized what had happened and was comforted by Maddon and teammate Jason Heyward.