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Hendricks takes MLB’s ERA lead into final month of Cy Young race

Kyle Hendricks earned his ninth win in 10 decisions with seven scoreless innings against the Pirates on Tuesday night.

Five more starts. Maybe six.

And if he keeps this up, Kyle Hendricks – who spent much of last season fighting command and mechanics – should be a favorite to win the Cubs’ second consecutive Cy Young Award.

“It has to be Cy Young consideration,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Hendricks’ 3-0 victory over the Pirates on Tuesday night. “Put the radar gun in your back pocket and look at what he’s doing.”

With an added wrinkle to his fastball, better use of a curve ball and confidence that’s soaring at an inverse rate to his falling ERA, Hendricks (13-7) is exceeding even his own expectations.

“It means a lot,” he said of the Cy Young talk after he lowered his major-league-best ERA to 2.09 with seven scoreless innings, “just because of where I was last year, and my goals coming into this year. I definitely didn’t see myself being a part of that. I had my sights set a little lower.”

With a fastball that sometimes reaches 90 and the best changeup on the staff, he’s putting together a similar finish to Jake Arrieta’s Cy Young run a year ago.

“It’s just a different method,” Maddon said. “Jake was a little more power. Obvious power. But I’ve always believed in the power changeup, and I think he’s got a power changeup.

“And the movement on his fastball. Jake had this freaky movement, and so does Kyle. Maybe not as hard but still equally effective. Give him credit. Stop looking at the gun. This guy’s really good.”

With a 9-1 record and 1.21 ERA at home this year – including scoreless outings in five of six starts – Hendricks is making a case for a Game 1 or 2 playoff start at Wrigley in a few weeks. He hasn’t lost at home since his first home start, April 15 against the Rockies.

“Some of that’s consistency,” he said. “It’s the same look, warming up in the same bullpen, going out to the same game mound – that’s got to be part of it. I’m just very comfortable – my routine, my timing when I’m home, all that stuff. Maybe there’s some factors in there; I don’t even know.”

Whether he can keep the roll going to the finish line like Arrieta did last year, he won’t speculate.

“You can’t look that far in the future in this game because it’ll come up and bite you,” he said.

Hendricks went 4-0 with a 1.28 ERA in six August starts, with opponents batting just .179 against him.

He’s 6-1 with a 1.34 ERA since the All-Star break.

And for anyone who is waiting for the success bubble to burst or believes this is some mirage for the non-power right-hander, consider this:

Hendricks – who went 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts for a bad Cubs team as a rookie in 2014 – lowered his career ERA to 2.96 on Tuesday night, improving his record to 28-16 in 70 starts.

Among active pitchers with at least 70 starts only four have career ERAs better: Jose Fernandez (2.54), Jacob deGrom (2.71), Chris Sale (2.95) and Madison Bumgarner (2.96, better by less than one-one-thousandth of a point).

“It’s amazing how he does it,” said teammate Anthony Rizzo, whose two-run homer off rookie Chad Kuhl in the first inning gave Hendricks all he needed to work with on this night.

The Cubs’ sixth win in eight games gave them a 21-6 mark in August with one game left – their highest win total in a month since May of 1977 (also 21).

And they dropped their magic number for clinching the division to 18 games – combined Cub wins and Cardinals losses it would take – with 31 games left.

“It’s definitely one at a time, but it’s definitely starting to enter our minds, how many games we have to win here to clinch,” Rizzo said. “But we’ve got to stay focused.”