By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — A loss is never pleasant to deal with, but for Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, progress was made in his team’s 4-2 setback to the Nationals on Friday at Wrigley Field.

In his third start back after a lengthy stint on the disabled list, Hendricks went seven innings, allowing three runs, all earned, on five hits and two walks while striking out five. Hendricks hadn’t gone more than five innings in his previous two starts.

All the damage against Hendricks was done by Nationals second baseman and Cubs nemesis Daniel Murphy, a one-man wrecking crew as he hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a solo shot in the sixth.

“A curveball maybe a little up,” Hendricks said of the first homer by Murphy, who was the 2015 NLCS MVP when the Mets swept the Cubs. “It wasn’t a terrible pitch. The other at-bat, I just fell behind. The plan was to make him hit it through the wind the other way. He did just that.”

Hendricks’ seven innings matched his longest outing of the season. He missed almost all of June and most of July with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand and had previously struggled to find his rhythm and velocity.

After a thrice rain-delayed 10-8 loss to the Diamondbacks on Thursday in which they went relied heavily on the bullpen and were undone by Paul Goldschmidt’s three homers, the Cubs needed Hendricks to go deep Friday. He did just that.

“He was good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We got beat by two All-Stars the last two days (in Goldschmidt and Murhpy). That was the result. We got beat by the homer two days in a row. Kyle really started to settle in at the end. I think he finished with his best change-ups the last inning.”

The extent of the Cubs’ offense was a two-run homer by Javier Baez in the seventh inning, but poor at-bats in the ninth inning by Baez and Ian Happ showed a lack of patience and maturity as the Cubs couldn’t rally after a lead-off single by Jason Heyward. Baez struck out swinging on three pitches, then Happ grounded into a double play.

Baez’s 15 homers this season are a career-high for him. At game’s end and ahead of the evening contests, the Cubs led the Brewers by one game in the NL Central.

“That is just who he is,” Maddon said of Baez swinging at three straight pitches out of the zone in the ninth. “We know he will chase. The other team knows that as well. As he matures, he will be really good. The ball comes off his bat hot. The minute he forces the pitcher to throw the ball over the plate and accepts walks, the number could be staggering.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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