MILWAUKEE – For four games, the reigning National League MVP had all of one infield single to show for 16 early-season at-bats.
For three batters Saturday, the reigning ERA champion in the major leagues had an ERA of infinity – allowing a homer, single and run-scoring double.
But then came the rest of the game, with rest of the season promising to follow in 157-game succession.
“It wasn’t an oil painting, but it was nevertheless effective and good,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon after the Cubs pounded the Brewers for a 17-hit, 11-6 victory at Miller Park – with starter Kyle Hendricks making his season debut eight days since his last exhibition start and persevering for six innings.
“Give Kyle credit,” Maddon said, referring to the long layoff. “I think you’ll see him much sharper the next time out.”
Hendricks (1-0) was sharp enough after those first three batters to retire the next 10 before giving up a walk and two-run homer in the fourth.
“It wasn’t the start I was looking for,” said Hendricks, who led both leagues with a 2.13 ERA last year. “Luckily we came out swinging it today.”
MVP Kris Bryant tied the game with a two-run double in the third and finished with three hits, including another double, and three RBIs as the Cubs matched their runs total for the first four games of the season combined.
“I still don’t feel anywhere near comfortable up there,” said Bryant, who said his timing is off. “But it’s nice to get some hits out of the way.”
Shortstop Addison Russell also doubled twice, singled and walked; Albert Almora Jr. had three hits, a walk, two RBIs and made his second spectacular catch of the season, sliding to rob Travis Shaw of a hit and end the fifth; and even starting pitcher Hendricks added a pair of singles.
“We knew it was a matter of time,” Hendricks said of the breakout hitting attack against left-hander Tommy Milone and the suspect Brewers bullpen. “I had a good feeling about it being today, honestly, just kind of because of the matchup and the way they were looking. You can’t hold this offense down for very long.”
After one full turn through the rotation, the Cubs’ starters are 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA.
They’re also 5-for-11 at the plate, with Hendricks delivering the staff’s second multi-hit game, including a run-scoring single on a tapper that died on the grass near the third-base line in the fifth.
Special guest for home opener
Soot Zimmer, the widow of former Cubs manager and Maddon friend Don Zimmer, is to be on hand, with their grandson, for Monday’s home opener and banner raising, as guests of Maddon.
“We kept playing phone tag, and I finally got her [Friday],” said Maddon, who became close to the Zimmers when Don was a special adviser for the Rays during Maddon’s time managing the team. “I said, `Zim’s going to be there so you might as well be there, too.’ So she conceded.
“She was really excited. She’s a really fun lady, with an infectious laugh, an absolutely infectious laugh.”
Zimmer, who was named NL Manager of the Year for the Cubs’ 1989 playoff season, worked with Maddon in Tampa Bay until his death in 2014, Maddon’s final season with the Rays.