DETROIT — Consistency has been key for right-hander Kyle Hendricks as he has tried to return to form and help get the Cubs’ starting rotation on track.
Hendricks has had an up-and-down start to his season, but he looked like the ace the Cubs need him to be Sunday, allowing one run in eight-plus innings in their 5-1 victory against the Tigers.
Not only was it Hendricks’ best start of the season, but it was the best by any Cubs starter.
‘‘I felt so much more like myself,’’ Hendricks said after improving to 3-4 and lowering his ERA to 5.27.
When Hendricks has struggled this season, the first inning has been where much of the damage has been done. It looked as though it would be more of the same after he yielded a pair of first-inning singles against the Tigers.
But after getting a 5-6-3 inning-ending double play, Hendricks went into cruise control.
‘‘I just need to try and not do too much,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘Just make my pitches and get through it. A little too anxious or too eager. Jumping to the plate a little bit. So the adjustment was to breathe out there, take a few deep breaths and slow it down.’’
Hendricks got into an early rhythm with catcher Willson Contreras and was locked in. He worked fast, got weak contact with the combination of his sinker and changeup and made quick work of a Tigers lineup that had trouble figuring him out.
He retired 10 consecutive batters at one point and attacked the strike zone, getting 32 called strikes. That led to him striking out eight without issuing a walk.
Hendricks has been searching for a consistent feel during the first six weeks of the season, and things seemed to fall into place after a light went off in his head during a bullpen session last week.
‘‘It can be frustrating because it doesn’t look too much different to the outside eye,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘But to me it feels like you’re so far away sometimes when it’s not right. So just having that feeling click where you feel [the ball] out in front, you feel it coming out of your hand right . . . it’s a credit to everybody that’s been sticking with me, put in the work and grinded through this.’’
Hendricks had his bid for a complete game and a shutout spoiled when he allowed a run in the ninth, but it didn’t take away from how good he was.
‘‘He didn’t walk anybody, which is always a sign of when he feels good and is in sync with his mechanics,’’ manager David Ross said ‘‘You know he’s pretty much around the zone and makes guys earn it. I thought he was moving the fastball around up and down, which really helped him today.’’
The offense gave him a cushion to work with, too. The Cubs had five runs and 10 hits in the series finale, and center fielder Ian Happ — who was activated from the injured list Saturday — went 3-for-4 with a solo home run.
Hendricks appears to be turning the corner after a rough April and has allowed one run or fewer in two of his last three starts. But he knows he’ll have to continue to turn in similar performances for the Cubs to get where they want to go.
‘‘It’s far from over,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘I’ve gotta put together two good starts in a row. I haven’t been able to do that. It’s back to the grind, back to the work, and just keep my focus right there.’’