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‘Unhappy’ ending for Cubs in opener vs. Sox as Kyle Hendricks returns

Kyle Hendricks vs. the White Sox on Monday.

Don’t try to tell the Cubs their four games against the rebuilding White Sox this week represent a soft spot on the schedule.

Manager Joe Maddon cringed at the mere notion, and that was before the Sox took the steam out of the red-hot Cubs and snapped their own nine-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory at Wrigley Field.

‘‘I don’t like it,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I’d much rather play the ’27 Yankees every night. I really like when that’s the perception.

‘‘Believe me, I know that the narrative is that. But believe me, I don’t go into it that way. You’ve got to go out there and play your best game, or you’re going to go home very unhappy tonight.’’

The Cubs had averaged 6.2 runs in going 8-1 since the All-Star break until running into Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez. They went 0-for-10 with men in scoring position and left 12 on base, including seven in the last three innings. They stranded the bases loaded in the seventh, when Anthony Rizzo drove a ball deep to center for the final out.

The Cubs’ only run scored on a bases-loaded infield dribbler by pitcher Kyle Hendricks in the second.

‘‘We had our chances,’’ said center fielder Jon Jay, who had four hits. ‘‘We put pressure on them. We were right there. It was just one of those games.’’

It’s tempting to say it was more than that, considering the crosstown rivalry that is most often on display in the stands. But the Cubs, who dropped a half-game behind the idle Brewers in the National League Central, have bigger things on their minds than the Sox.

‘‘No different,’’ right fielder Jason Heyward said of the vibe and emotion at the ballpark. ‘‘We’re just competing.’’

If there was a victory the Cubs could claim, it was the presence of Hendricks, who started for the first time in seven weeks after returning from a finger injury on his right (pitching) hand.

It made a resurgent rotation whole again, even if Hendricks wasn’t as sharp as he was in his final minor-league rehab start last week, when he retired all 15 batters he faced.

‘‘My body felt good; I just couldn’t make the adjustment today,’’ said Hendricks, who nonetheless struck out three of the first five batters he faced and didn’t allow a run until Jose Abreu’s one-out double in the fifth drove home Melky Cabrera from first.

It was his final batter.

‘‘He looked fine delivery-wise, but the ball just wasn’t coming out as normal,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He just didn’t have that good feel about him today. But he threw, like, 90 pitches, which is good to get him stretched out moving into the next start. And the fact that he got out of there with one run, I was really pleased with that. It’s a good outing to build off of.’’

Hendricks’ 92-pitch return didn’t produce a quality start, but he continued a trend since the All-Star break of strong starting pitching. Cubs starters have a 2.24 ERA since the break and are 7-0 with a 1.93 ERA in the last nine games.

‘‘It’s fun being out there, fun playing, but it didn’t really go the way I wanted it to go,’’ said Hendricks, who led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last season. ‘‘My fastball command was terrible, and that’s where everything stems from for me. Healthwise everything felt great, so we’ll take that.

‘‘I know what adjustments to make. Hopefully I’ll just make that adjustment this week and get back to my [every-fifth-day] routine. I’m a big routine guy. So get back in that feel, and hopefully it’ll go from there.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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