SAN DIEGO — It’s not often that a starter jogs out to the mound in the ninth inning. Before Monday, no Cubs starter had even made it into the eighth this season. But in a 6-0 win against the Padres, right-hander Kyle Hendricks came one out short of a complete game, tossing 8 2⁄3 shutout innings.
“He did a spectacular job,” Cubs manager David Ross said, “and we needed that.”
The win snapped the Cubs’ five-game losing streak. Beyond the skid, the Cubs had lost eight of their past nine games, outscored by opponents 62-22 in that span.
Hendricks himself was coming out of an inconsistent April in which he was plagued on and off by the same mechanical issues that characterized his 2021 season, the worst of his career. But on Monday not only did he finally put together back-to-back strong starts, but he did so with a dominant performance.
“It’s pitching and defense, that’s how you win ballgames,” Hendricks said. “So, me going out and attacking with my fastball, coming right out guys, getting some quick outs, easy outs, and then some great plays behind me, that’s always a good formula. We just need some more of that.”
The offense didn’t do anything flashy, but they strung together hits to build up a lead bit by bit. The Cubs scored on a double from Seiya Suzuki in the first inning, a single from Ian Happ in the fourth, a double-play groundout from Suzuki in the fifth, and an error in the seventh.
They tacked on two more runs in the eight inning, showing off some aggressive base running. With runners on first and third, Happ stretched a base hit into an RBI double, sliding into second base head first. Nico Hoerner took advantage of the commotion at second to score the second run of the frame and give the Cubs a six-run lead.
The Cubs’ defense was solid, highlighted by a diving play center fielder Jason Heyward made sprinting in on a short line drive to end the seventh inning.
The win, however, started with Hendricks.
“It’s no surprise, he’s not going to extremely overpower people,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “But he’s going to be able to keep guys off balance with anything. So, we’re not looking for the perfect pitches, we’re just looking for the quality pitches that are working in that certain scenario.”
According to Hendricks, Ross was “a little on the fence,” about sending him out for the ninth inning. Although he’d only allowed three hits, he’d already thrown 99 pitches. But Hendricks was apparently convincing.
“He’s got all the trust in the world and me,” Hendricks said of Ross, “and I appreciate it so much.”
Said Ross: “The eighth [inning] was so clean, it just made a lot of sense to send him back out.”
Ross had reliever Scott Effross warm up to face the Padres’ Manny Machado, which gave Hendricks a chance to finish the game if he retired three batters in a row. But with fatigue setting in, he issued his first walk of the game to Jake Cronenworth, the second batter of the frame.
“I think I wanted it too bad,” Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner joked about the possibility of a complete game shutout. “Nick [Madrigal] and I were looking at each other really excited.”
Hoerner conceded, however, that pulling Hendricks before the last out was the right call. Hendricks left the game with his pitch count at 116. The Cubs fans in the stands booed the decision before giving the pitcher a standing ovation.
Suzuki exits early
Suzuki left the game with right ankle soreness, after tweaking it on first base in his last at-bat. Rafael Ortega replaced him in right field in the sixth inning. Suzuki went 1-for-3 Monday. Ross described him as “day-to-day” after the game, and Suzuki said he felt “fine.”