Hendricks gives Cubs bullpen a break, earns sixth straight win
The Cubs don't have an off-day this week, but they were counting on Saturday to be their long day.
As in, a long outing by starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks.
Cubs starting pitchers have completed 6 innings just 20 times in 64 games this season. Hendricks has nine of those and after Saturday's 7-2 victory over St. Louis, he's on a run of six consecutive starts where he pitched at least 6 innings and earned the victory.
"That's a huge part of my focus, to be consistently going deep into ballgames," Hendricks said after the game. "Ideally, you want to always get through seven. But you get through six, the way our bullpen's been going this year, that's been lock down at the back end. We feel really confident with that formula. I really pride myself on keeping the pitch count down, getting through at least seven, if not eight. I think it pays dividends later in the year."
Hendricks might have had one more inning in him, but manager David Ross called it a night after 87 pitches. The Cubs did get into some trouble in the ninth. Trevor Megill, just back from the injured list, loaded the bases and Craig Kimbrel came on to get the final out.
But Cubs pitchers seemed to be in control from the time Hendricks retired Paul Goldschmidt on a grounder to short to end the third inning with two men on, while the Cubs led 5-2.
"I got to a full count there, I didn't want to walk a guy, just create more momentum for them," Hendricks said. "So I just kept telling myself make a good pitch. With him, it's always tough. He's kind of on everything, but we just wanted to stick with the fastball, stick with the strength, he still put a really good swing on it. Luckily we just had a guy in the right spot there."
Hendricks (8-4) does lead the majors in home runs allowed with 19. He gave up two more Saturday. Antioch's Paul DeJong, in his second game back from the injured list with a broken rib, blasted a solo home run in the third inning, after Nolan Arenado gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead in the top of the second.
The Cubs took command in the bottom of the second inning, scoring 5 runs on just 2 hits. Ian Happ followed a Willson Contreras walk with a 2-run, opposite field homer to put the Cubs ahead.
Cardinals starter John Gant then walked four batters to force in a run. Javy Baez singled to drive in a run, then Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch, forcing in another run. St. Louis ended up using seven pitchers, with Gant hitting the showers during that second inning.
Joc Pederson and Sergio Alcantara added solo home runs for the Cubs. Pederson has 5 home runs in the last eight games, while Alcantara has 2 homers and 6 extra-base hits in eight starts since joining the team from Iowa.
Both those players kind of represent the Cubs' success this season. They've gotten help from new additions, as well as guys who were called up to fill in when injuries hit.
"I think it's been a nice pleasant surprise, just the pop off the bat," Ross said of Alcantara, who played for the Tigers last season. "When you're underestimated or people don't expect a whole lot from you, that's a powerful thing. I think he's a really good player. I think he believes he's a good player. He's had a lot of success in winter ball.
"So when you get back to the big leagues and have some success on a winning team and people take you lightly, that's a powerful thing. I made a career of being taken lightly."
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls