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Defense backs Hendricks, Cubs add offense in 6-0 win over Rangers

Almora makes a diving catch July 15 at Wrigley Field. (AP Photo/David Banks)

There were times Friday when Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks watched the ball leave the bat and was convinced there was no way one of his teammates would track it down.

But time after time, the defense supported Hendricks before the offense responded with a five-run sixth inning in the Cubs’ 6-0 win over the Rangers at Wrigley Field.

Center fielder Albert Almora Jr.’s diving catch and second baseman Javy Baez’s ranging play were two highlights for the re-energized Cubs, who produced a combination that manager Joe Maddon believes is a recipe for success.

“People get hung up on hitting all the time, and it’s wonderful and you’ve got to score — I get it,” Maddon said. “But if you can pitch and play defense every night, you have a chance pretty much to win every night.”

Hendricks (8-6) lowered his ERA to 2.41, third in the majors behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner. He allowed three hits in six innings, struck out three and walked two.

The Cubs gave Hendricks a 1-0 lead in the second inning, when Baez singled home Addison Russell, who had doubled.

But before their big sixth inning, which featured two-run singles by Russell and pinch hitter Matt -Szczur, the Cubs’ defense played a starring role.

And no one was more grateful than Hendricks.

“That was huge out there today,” said Hendricks, whom Maddon said is performing with the consistency of Jake Arietta last season. “It really set a tone for us — good defense, scoring some runs. Hopefully we can just keep it rolling.”

Coming off a nearly monthlong stretch in which the offense struggled, the starting pitching hit the skids and a schedule of 24 games in 24 days took its toll, Maddon was hoping that the All-Star break would give his team a reboot.

And based on what he saw from a team that was all over the field defensively, Maddon got his wish.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo made a diving stop, rookie catcher Willson Contreras threw out the only Ranger who tried to steal and Baez turned in a couple of gems at second base.

But the defensive star might have been Almora Jr., who made two impressive catches in center, including an over-the-shoulder catch to end the game that erased what would have been an extra-base hit.

“That’s my job,” Almora Jr. said. “I try to take care of [the pitchers]. I didn’t do anything offensively, but I feel good today just because we won and I did something to help out the team.”

He certainly wasn’t the only one.

“It was fun to watch us play defense today,” Maddon said.

Hendricks would agree.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.