By Bruce Levine–

(CBS) The Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Reds on Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field hurt in their chase for a playoff berth as their division lead remained at 1.5 games, but the silver lining was right-hander Kyle Hendricks looked much sharper.

Hendricks threw six shutout innings, allowing five hits and walking four as he struck out six. He’ll be counted on to have more games like that as the Cubs try to hold off three teams in a tight NL Central race.

“He came out with a little better velocity and better location,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Every pitch was working for him. He threw the curveball for a strike. He threw the four-seamers really well, up to 87 mph. Everything was right on. He pitched really well. That was more typical of Kyle. I was very pleased.”

Hendricks missed seven weeks — most of June and July — with a right finger issue. While that was a setback, his arm has remained fresh with the reduced workload, and Hendricks knows he needs to step up late in the season.

“That was a lot better tonight,” Hendricks said. “The fastball command was number one for me. The changeup was good, and I had a few curves that were effective. It was a lot of fun out there with Victor Caratini at catcher). We were on the same page all night. He did a good job communicating between innings with me. It was a lot of fun.”

Hendricks’ six shutout innings marked his first scoreless outing since May 5. Since returning from the disabled list in late July, he has a 2.00 ERA in five starts and has looked more like his 2016 self when he won the ERA crown with a 2.13 mark.

Hendricks is 4-4 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.26 WHIP for the season.

“Consistency now,” Hendricks said about his next step. “I will stick with fastball command in my side sessions. Everything just comes from there.”

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

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