After his third rough outing of the season last week, right-hander Kyle Hendricks admitted he was still battling himself and trying to get into a groove.
Finding his rhythm didn’t seem to be an issue in the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the Diamondbacks on Friday at Wrigley Field, with Hendricks pitching his best and longest start of the season — seven scoreless innings.
His final line was three hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts with one wild pitch — his first wild pitch in 6,662 pitches, according to MLB.com. He also managed to get out of the seventh despite his left foot being hit by a ball hit by Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walkers. Hendricks later said his foot would be OK.
After the game, manager Joe Maddon summed up Hendricks’ outing in four words.
“That was classic Kyle,” he said.
The performance even surprised “The Professor” himself.
“You always want it to come, but I didn’t think it was going to come this quick,” said Hendricks, whose ERA dropped nearly two points to 3.54. “To go out and make that many good pitches, it builds the confidence a lot, and it solidifies the confidence we’ve been working on. So I just told the guys, this is just one good day, and tomorrow we have to get right back at it with another work day and hopefully get on a roll here.”
Hendricks attributed his good day in part to other pitchers in the rotation and the friendly competition they have with one another. After watching Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels each throw seven scoreless innings in their victories on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, Hendricks knew it was his turn to show what he’s got.
“Q and Cole have been doing an unbelievable job just attacking guys, and I think it’s filtering down to the rest of us now,” Hendricks said. “I’ve been trying just to stay right in stride with them.”
Maddon is all for the competitive vibe in the rotation if the results keep coming.
“It is contagious,” he said. “We’re on a pretty good roll right now, and I think it is sustainable for the starters, especially, and the bullpen, too. The bullpen has really righted itself.
“When you pitch and play defense, it takes a lot of strain off the offense. . . . We haven’t played really any better than we did earlier in the season. The difference is we pitched better. That’s it.”
The rotation is heating up at the right time, considering ace Jon Lester was sidelined earlier this month with a tight hamstring. In the last seven games, Cubs starters have a combined 0.96 ERA.
The bullpen also has gotten significantly better despite missing Brandon Morrow and Mike Montgomery, both out with injuries. In the last 10 games, Cubs relievers have a 1.16 ERA. In the first eight games, they had an embarrassing 9.51 ERA.
Steve Cishek, who replaced Hendricks in the eighth inning Friday, has pitched five scoreless outings (5⅔ innings combined) after walking his first three batters on April 3.
Entering the ninth inning Friday, the Cubs — who have won four straight and are .500 for the first time — had pitched 31 consecutive scoreless innings, their longest stretch since 1976. Brad Brach gave up three hits and a run before he was replaced by Pedro Strop, who got the final two outs.
“I have a lot of faith in Brach,” Maddon said. “I think this guy is going to be big for us by the end of the year. So that happened, but overall, [we] played well.”