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Cy of relief? Hendricks saves pen with a shutout of Marlins

Kyle Hendricks baffled the Marlins Monday night at Wrigley.

For a brief, two-pitch window in the seventh inning Monday night, it was about history.

The Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki, an MVP on two continents, stepping to the plate as a pinch-hitter two hits shy of 3,000 in his major league career.

Then he lined Kyle Hendricks’ second pitch to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who threw to first for an inning-ending double play.

And then it was back to the Kyle Hendricks Show.

The right-hander most call the Cubs’ fifth starter pitched like their ace again to beat the Marlins 5-0 with his second career shutout as the Cubs won for the fifth time in six games.

“Right now he’s one of the best pitchers in the National League, period,” manager Joe Maddon said.

“Arguably one of the better pitchers in the game all season,” said teammate Anthony Rizzo, who had a triple, double, single and walk Monday.

Hendricks (10-7) allowed only three runs in July – all in his last start – and opened August with his sixth scoreless performance in eight outings, including a two-inning relief appearance just before the All-Star break.

He’s the only Cubs starter with two complete games this season.

“This is definitely the best I’ve ever pitched [for a sustained stretch],” he said, “the most confident I’ve been.”

Hendricks, who lowered his ERA to 2.22, allowed just one extra-base hit Monday night – with Derek Dietrich thrown out at third on that play trying to stretch a double – and retired 11 of the last 13 he faced.

Ichiro Suzuki (2,998 hits) lined out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.
Ichiro Suzuki (2,998 hits) lined out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.

“I think the last two or three innings I was making better pitches than earlier in the game, to be honest,” said Hendricks, who threw a season-high 123 pitches one night after the bullpen was needed for nine innings of work.

Hendricks’ ERA ranks third in the majors behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (still on the disabled list with a back injury) and Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, and Maddon compared this command-fueled run of success to Jake Arrieta’s lights-out finish last year.

That earned Arrieta a Cy Young Award.

What about Hendricks and the Cy Young race?

“He’s on his way,” Maddon said. “Look at his numbers. Look at the numbers at home [8-1, 1.9 ERA]. They’re absurd. It’s a different version of what Jake had done last year.”

Asked if he’s been getting questions about a possible Cy Young run, Hendricks said, “That was the first one.

“That’s something at the end of the day that’s just an accolade,” he added. “We’ve got a long way to go, two months left, and our sights are a lot more than individual honors on this team. And for me especially – I’ve got my sights set higher for this team.”

Cubs shortstop Addison Russell gave Hendricks all the run support he would need with a two-out, two-run single to right in the first inning to drive home Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo.

Hendricks helped his own cause in a two-run fifth, with a one-out, run-scoring single to left.