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Despite Cubs’ loss, Kyle Hendricks strong in final start before postseason

Hendricks pitched like one of baseball’s best starters in September, finishing the month 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA.

Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks delivers during the first inning against the Pirates on Wednesday night.
Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks delivers during the first inning against the Pirates on Wednesday night.
Gene J. Puskar/AP

It’s going to be pitching that carries the Cubs this postseason, and right-hander Kyle Hendricks will be a big part of that as manager David Ross leans on his two best starters in October.

Hendricks took the mound for his final start of the regular season in the Cubs’ 2-1 loss Wednesday to the Pirates and closed the book on what was a solid campaign.

‘‘Can’t believe that’s the last start of the regular season,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘Feels like we’re just getting started. Just a weird year overall, but our sights . . . my sights now have to go forward.’’

Hendricks’ final tuneup before the postseason didn’t start like he wanted. He served up back-to-back home runs to Adam Frazier and Ke’Bryan Hayes to start the game.

But after a 20-pitch first inning, Hendricks allowed only three hits in his next six innings before leaving with a runner on and two outs in the eighth.

The two first-inning runs would be all Hendricks would allow in 7 2/3 innings.

‘‘Today, I wasn’t very good the first few innings,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘Not aggressive to the glove, especially with my fastball. Fastball command was a little off, but offspeed stuff was good pretty much the whole game. Then the fifth inning on was way better.’’

After starting the shortened regular season strong, Hendricks finished it in the same manner. He looked like one of the best starters in the majors in September, finishing the month 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA, four walks and 30 strikeouts.

‘‘I think that’s as expected,’’ Ross said. ‘‘His résumé speaks for itself. I think that’s what kind of pitcher he knows he is, we know he is. I definitely know what he’s capable of. It’s just nice to have that guy on your side.

‘‘When he takes the bump, it’s a very comforting feeling, and you really feel like you have a really good chance to win the baseball game. . . . He’s had a phenomenal year for us, and I’m happy for him.”

Hendricks’ next start will come in the National League wild-card round next week. It will be his first playoff start since facing the Dodgers and now-teammate Yu Darvish in the NL Championship Series on Oct. 17, 2017.

Hendricks and Darvish will be the Cubs’ strength going into October, and Hendricks said he is looking forward to the challenge.

‘‘It’s been unbelievable watching him go out every five days, and the rapport that we have now, the friendship we have, it’s great,’’ Hendricks said of Darvish. ‘‘We’re pushing each other, and we know we want to be those two guys.’’

It’s still to be determined whether Hendricks will pitch in Game 1 or Game 2, but he would be on six or seven days of rest going into the first round.

The Cubs, however, have some plans in place to make sure Hendricks stays sharp with the additional time off. Before the game, Ross said Hendricks might pitch an inning in the season finale Sunday, depending on the implications of the game.

‘‘That’s a long time in between starts,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We try not to take anything for granted. . . . There’s a lot of potential for us to still get some work in with some off-days in there, as well. We have a lot of guys that are going to need to throw, so we’re planning for a lot of those scenarios and we’ve talked through a lot of those things.’’

‘‘A few extra days would never hurt,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘[I’ve] been going deep in games, so, at this point, it doesn’t hurt to get a few extra days here. I’ll throw another bullpen, just do a little extra throwing.

‘‘Staying on that five days isn’t quite as important since we’ve had so many things to work through this year. This should be an easy one.’’