There’s no question Kyle Hendricks has suffered through some difficult starts in 2022, his second straight subpar season with the Chicago Cubs.
Hendricks came into Friday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals having allowed six runs or more in four of his 13 starts, leading to a bloated earned-run average of 5.43. It’s not the Hendricks the Cubs have come to expect, though it’s also not the same kind of contending team he has enjoyed playing for during the bulk of his career.
But Cubs fans got a glimpse of vintage Hendricks on Friday night at Busch Stadium, and it was every bit as good as they remembered.
“That was as good as I’ve seen him this year,” manager David Ross said. “Everything was working.”
Hendricks tossed 7 ⅓ shutout innings in a 3-0 victory before 46,524, the largest crowd of the season at Busch.
The Cubs won for only the fifth time in 19 games, silencing the first-place Cardinals in the opener of their first series of the season in St. Louis.
“It was really Yan (Gomes) tonight,” Hendricks said of the game plan. “It was what he was able to do. I recognized it from the start. I trusted him the whole game. There was a couple shakes where I was committed to something and a couple shakes where I shouldn’t have.”
Hendricks allowed five hits while striking out six and walking one in a 91-pitch outing, improving to 3-6. Chris Martin and David Robertson finished if off, with Robertson collecting his ninth save in 12 opportunities.
Hendricks allowed only two base runners in the first five innings. Juan Yepez singled with two outs in the second but was thrown out at second to end the inning. Paul Goldschmidt walked with two outs in the fifth before Hendricks retired Brendan Donovan on a fly to center.
After Dylan Carlson singled to open the eighth and Harrison Bader doubled, Hendricks struck out pinch hitter Lars Nootbar before Martin replaced him. The Cubs reliever induced a comebacker to the mound and a soft liner to short to strand the runners.
“When you come in a game, whether you’re up five or down five, you try to get your mind right for the whole situation,” Martin said. “But definitely whenever you go out and pick up a teammate, you’re more amped up after that. It makes baseball fun in those situations. It’s where the bullpen wants to be and a big confidence boost.”
The Cubs scored their runs on Nico Hoerner’s two-run homer in the second off rookie Andre Pallante and Ian Happ’s RBI double in the fifth. Happ came into the night with a .367 average in his previous 22 games, quietly emerging as the co-leader of the offense along with Willson Contreras.
Ross before the game said Happ has proved he’s an “All-Star caliber” player.
“Ian has been our All-Star, he and Willson,” Ross said. “Those guys have really stood out above the rest for us. It’s nice to see the veteran guys play that consistently.”
But Hendricks was the man in the spotlight Friday.
“Vintage Kyle,” Ross said. “He locks it in when the stage is big.”
Whether it looked like the Hendricks of old, he said he doesn’t think of a performance like Friday as a reminder of something in the past.
“Somewhat, but it feels so long ago,” he said. “I’m really trying to focus on where I’m at and just seeing the game for what it is, taking it and knowing where to go and making my pitches. Yan really helped me today feel the game better. I just haven’t had that great feel for what they’re trying to do against me. He was huge getting me in that mindset.”
Hendricks is such a low-key individual he appears the same every day no matter how he’s performing. After the struggles he has gone through in the last two seasons, has he ever gotten so upset that he breaks something?
“No, not breaking stuff, man,” he said with a laugh. “I just get frustrated and just got to get to work. There’s nothing I can do to change it. Now it’s just get to work and make the next one better. Obviously it’s not where I want to be. There’s not anger or anything like that. Just got to make better pitches — that’s where my focus is.”