By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks wasn’t in his usual top form in a 4-2 loss to the Pirates on Friday. Fighting his way through five-plus innings was tougher than expected.
Pittsburgh plated a run on an RBI double by David Freese in the second inning. Hendricks then battled into the sixth inning before he went to the showers following an Andrew McCutchen bloop single and a blast by Gregory Polanco off the glove of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The Pirates followed with a pair of runs that were charged to Hendricks and one more before Justin Grimm could record the third out of the inning.
Beginning the year as the Cubs’ fifth starter was part of the organization’s plan for Hendricks, done in order to control some matchups across the board early in the season. The MLB ERA champion in 2016, Hendricks has shown rust coming out of spring training and started Friday with five days of rest. That followed seven days off before his season-opening start after the Cubs broke camp.
“That was a concern how we had him coming out of camp,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He was so sharp coming out of spring training. You look long term, I think we’ll see what we normally see with him. It was not really that awful. I just did not like the number of pitches (in the sixth inning). He was going to have to work way to hard to get out of that inning.”
With a 5.73 ERA after two outings, Hendricks doesn’t seem concerned with the hiccups to start the season. Hendricks’ final line was five innings, three runs allowed all earned, on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
“This was better than the last one at least,” Hendricks said in comparing his first two starts. “Command wise, it was better. Fastball command was a lot better. Changeup — OK. I only threw a couple of curveballs today. They were putting together some pretty good at-bats on me. I thought I was pitching pretty well. The sixth inning was unfortunate. What are you going to do about that?”
Hendricks wouldn’t use his two starts in 15 days as an excuse.
“Getting back on normal rest, six days, I felt a lot better,” he said. “Getting into the normal routine, hopefully, the command will just follow.”
The Cubs loaded the bases in the ninth inning, but Ben Zobrist grounded out to end it. The Cubs left 11 runners on base in falling to 6-4.
“We put ourselves in a position to win in the last few innings,” Zobrist said. “Right now, it appears the rhythm just isn’t there yet. I like how we battled and played the game.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.