ST. LOUIS — The beginning of 2021 has been a learning experience for starter Kyle Hendricks, who has had to do some serious soul-searching after the worst month of his career in April.
While slowly putting starts together in an effort to return to the caliber of pitching the Cubs have expected from him, Hendricks discovered something during his previous start in Detroit. Even in a signature performance — eight innings of one-run ball — what he’s searching for is consistency.
“I want to be that guy that my team can rely on,” said Hendricks, who took the next step Friday night, allowing seven hits and one earned run, striking out four and walking one in 6⅔ innings in the Cubs’ 12-3 win against the Cardinals. “They know what they’re going to get when I take the ball out there that day. . . . Today was another step in the right direction.”
Hendricks (4-4) was in a rhythm from the first pitch against the first-place Cardinals, throwing easy, 1-2-3 innings in the first and second. He allowed just three hits over his first five innings.
“I made a lot of good pitches tonight,” he said. “Really only three or four hard-hit hits, so it’s a good sign that my stuff is moving well, and I’m changing speeds well.”
In the sixth, things got dicey for him after three singles and an intentional walk loaded the bases and tied the game at 2. Hendricks was able to escape the jam without further damage, getting Yadier Molina to pop out and Harrison Bader to ground out to end the threat.
“That was big,” he said. “It was really cool being in that situation, honestly. That’s the loudest we’ve heard a stadium in a while. It was really cool feeling that energy — just telling myself to take a deep breath and ‘Just got to make a good pitch here.’ ”
Said manager David Ross: “I thought he looked sharp all night long. It is nice to get some traffic out there and get out of it.
“I think we need Kyle to be who he’s been for us historically to win baseball games. We trust that sometimes guys that have the track record don’t get off to the best starts. We’ve started to see vintage Kyle the last few times out. . . . We’re gonna need him to be that version of him throughout the season for us to have success, for sure.”
Hendricks has now gone at least 6 ⅔ innings in three of his four starts this month and has a 2.39 ERA in those starts.
The Cubs’ offense came through right away Friday. Joc Pederson continued his torrid month with a leadoff homer in the first and added a sacrifice fly for a run in the fifth.
The Cubs took a 3-2 lead in the sixth when Nico Hoerner scored on a wild pitch and an error by Molina. Kris Bryant’s RBI double later in the inning — his major-league-leading 16th double of the season — extended the lead before the Cubs piled on a staggering eight runs in the eighth to blow the game wide open.