MILWAUKEE — After Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks threw a second straight ball to Jace Peterson in the fourth inning on Friday, catcher Willson Contreras jogged to the mound. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy soon joined them from the dugout.
The trio chatted briefly and then Hendricks went back to work, needing only four pitches to escape the remainder of the inning. That included striking Peterson out before inducing an infield popout from Kolten Wong.
“It clicked,” Hendricks said in the wake of the Cubs’ 11-1 loss to the Brewers at American Family Field. “It’s just locking in these things I’m working on and the consistency of it, so I can get it every pitch and am not coming in and out of it.”
Right now, that’s where Hendricks is frustrated.
As the veteran leader of the Cubs’ rotation, Hendricks takes pride in being a figure of consistency. Right now, the right-hander is struggling to find the kind of rhythm that he can ride for weeks and months at a time. He will find it for an inning, or even an entire outing, only to slide backward.
After Hendricks spun seven shutout innings in his last outing, he lasted 85 pitches and 4 1/3 innings this time. He was left sifting through the damage for the positives. There were moments — like after that mound visit in the fourth — in which his delivery was functioning properly, and the pitch movement backed it up.
And then, Hendricks would lose it again.
“Consistency is what you’re striving for,” Hendricks said. “And that starts with pitch to pitch for me. And yeah, I’m just not having that right now. It’s kind of been one game to the next.”
When the smoke cleared on Hendricks’ outing, he was charged with six runs. It was the ninth time he gave up at least that many runs in an outing since the start of last season (37 games). For comparison, Hendricks allowed at least six runs just nine times from 2014-20 (175 games).
With two outs in the second inning, shortstop Nico Hoerner fumbled the transfer on a Lorenzo Cain chopper up the middle, allowing Milwaukee’s first run to score. Two pitches later, Peterson sent a high-and-tight fastball just over the wall in right for a two-run homer.
“If Nico makes that play there in the second,” Cubs manager David Ross said, “maybe we get out of there and maybe it’s a little bit cleaner game, a little more rhythm.”
Similarly, Andrew McCutchen pulled an up-and-in fastball from Hendricks out to left-center field in the third inning for a solo shot.
“The Peterson home run, that’s where I was trying to go with it,” Hendricks said. “And McCutchen home run, he beat me on that. That’s what I was trying to do. But, what it tells me is it was coming in flat.”
As things stand, Hendricks has a 5.47 ERA on the season. A year ago, he labored out of the gates to the tune of a 6.23 ERA in his first seven turns. From there, while Hendricks was still battling his delivery, he found enough of a rhythm to go on a 16-start run between May and August that included a 2.79 ERA over 100 innings of work.
“We trust Kyle. His resume, I think, speaks for itself,” Ross said. “He’ll analyze it. He’ll come back to work tomorrow and get busy getting back into rhythm.”
Hendricks noted that the message from Contreras and Hottovy in the fourth was that the pitcher was “rushing” in his delivery. The righty was not staying back over the pitching rubber, which was disrupting the chain reaction of his mechanics. His fastballs, in turn, were losing their depth, and he was struggling to locate them down in the zone. When that’s an issue, troubles with his signature changeup can follow.
To finish that fourth inning, Hendricks was able to make the proper in-game adjustment. But in the fifth, he was back to rushing, and Christian Yelich took advantage with a two-run homer off a changeup down the middle.
Hendricks noted that the big difference this season compared to last is that this year, the issues are coming and going. This year, the moments of success are inconsistent, but at least they’re there. At the outset of last season, Hendricks said he was lost, and those in-game glimpses of success seemed non-existent. To Hendricks, that is a positive he can carry into his work ahead of his next start.
“I feel like I am in a good spot,” he said. “When I’m doing the right things, the things I’ve been working on, it’s right. I see angle, I see bad swings. I’m off the end of the bat. But, when I’m not right, it’s just the inconsistency that’s bothering me right now.”