LOS ANGELES – Kyle Hendricks at least knew it was a finger injury that caused his first-half struggles last year.
But the Cubs starter who won the 2016 ERA crown and started Game 1 of the 2017 playoffs is searching for answers like he never has in four years in the big leagues after the Dodgers beat him up Wednesday night in the shortest of his 115 career starts.
“I feel healthy. I’m just terrible right now,” Hendricks said after lasting just 2 2/3 innings in a 7-5 loss to the Dodgers.
That dropped the Cubs to 1-6 during an eight-game road trip that began with a four-game sweep by the last-place Reds in Cincinnati, continued with former MVP Kris Bryant landing on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and that concludes Thursday afternoon against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
And now the Cubs’ big-game command pitcher has lost all semblance of that deception and fine command – looking nothing like the guy who outpitched Kershaw in the 2016 pennant clincher.
“It’s just bad. It’s mechanics,” said Hendricks (5-8), who has lost five of his last six starts. “I’m trying to focus mentally and go pitch to pitch. I’m doing that. But something’s off. I’m just searching right now.”
This might be the deepest funk he has experienced, he said.
“I’ve had troubles obviously in my career, but this is up there as one of the toughest,” he said. “But a challenge is just an opportunity. I’ve got to take advantage of it, work hard and get through it.”
Meanwhile, his walk rate is as high as it’s been in his career, and he’s missing location inside the zone almost as often.
Home runs in the first by Max Muncy and in the second by Joc Pederson were the 15th and 16th Hendricks has allowed this season – just one off his career high in just 16 starts this year.
He struggled to record as many outs as the Dodgers recorded hits against him – his eight allowed the most since he gave up nine to the Brewers in five innings his second start of the year.
“I don’t think the normal movement is there right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “More fly balls than we’re used to seeing and more walks than we’re used to seeing. He’s going to have to keep working on it. But I’m happy that he’s physically well.”
That’s one of the damnedest parts for Hendricks as he troubleshoots.
The finger, the hand, the arm – the entire body – are issue-free this time around.
“This might be some of the best I’ve felt through my four years,” he said. “My body feels really good, feels strong. It’s just something mechanically I think I’m just searching for something.”
Adding to the frustration on this night, Hendricks said, was the bind he put the rest of the team in by blowing an early 2-0 lead and departing with a 6-2 deficit.
Willson Contreras provided most of the run production for the Cubs in this one, hitting a two-run homer in the first for the quick lead and a two-run double in the eighth to cut the score to 6-5.
The bullpen was nearly spotless until Cody Bellinger’s solo shot off Randy Rosario in the eighth provided a key insurance run.
It was the Cubs’ eighth loss in 11 games.