Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said after his final start before the All-Star break he felt “really close” to having the kind of stuff and feel he had during what he called the best stretch of his career.
That was the eight-start stretch just before experience shoulder soreness that put him on the injured list in mid-June – going 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA before the injury.
It wasn’t quite cruise-control stuff Monday night during the hottest night game of the year at Wrigley Field this year.
But six strong innings of work against the Reds put the Cubs in the lead – until another blown save by the bullpen – and more significantly continued the kind of run for the starting pitching that the Cubs will need to outlast the tight National League Central.
Hendricks gave up a two-out homer in the first – the only base runner allowed the first time through the order – and a one-out homer in the sixth for the two runs he allowed.
Over the last seven games, Cubs starters have a 3.07 ERA. And the only start in that stretch that wasn’t a quality start was that Hendricks start just before the break – his second start back from the injury, on a tight pitch limit.
Hendricks was in line for the win Monday until reliever Steve Cishek gave up a tying homer to Curt Casali leading off the seventh – then allowed another unearned run with the help of errors by shortstop Javy Baez and third baseman David Bote.
Brad Brach gave up two more in the eighth.
Cole Hamels (left oblique) played catch again Monday, this time from 120 feet, and Epstein said reports on him were “really positive.”
The next step for Hamels, who was injured June 28, could be throwing a bullpen session from a mound this week. Barring a setback, that could put him ahead of the typical schedule for an injury like this.
“Right before the end of the first half he got to the point where he was pretty much symptom-free,” Epstein said. “He came back feeling really good.”
Hamels was one of the hottest pitchers in the majors at the time of the injury (1.22 ERA in June).
Right-hander Alec Mills is to be recalled from Class AAA Iowa on Tuesday to start in Hamels’ place against the Reds.
Zobrist plan “soon”?
Epstein said he plans to follow up on some texts and talk to Ben Zobrist “soon” to start plotting a more specific plan for the infielder/outfielder’s possible return this season.
The Cubs have been without Zobrist’s veteran presence and unique-to-this-lineup approach at the plate since he took personal leave in early May for family issues.
Zobrist, 38, is expected to need weeks to return to game shape, which suggests a return about the time rosters expand Sept. 1.
“We haven’t had advanced enough conversations to pinpoint an exact date,” Epstein said. “Hopefully, we can get a plan in place.”
Contreras on deck
All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, who sat out Sunday because of a sore foot, was well enough to play Monday but got an extra day off as a precaution, Maddon said.
“I’m fine,” said Contreras, who texted Maddon repeatedly Sunday night that he wanted to play Monday.