SAN DIEGO — A starting pitcher taking a third spin through the opposing lineup is an exception in baseball these days, if not an outright rarity.
Kyle Hendricks, wily veteran that he is, knows he can take that third tour because the batters will never get three looks at the same Kyle Hendricks. Sure, the stuff’s the same. But the way he uses it varies with each matchup.
Hendricks was masterful on Monday night as the Cubs snapped a five-game losing streak with a 6-0 victory over the Padres in the series opener at Petco Park. The 32-year-old right-hander tossed 8 2/3 innings and allowed only three singles while walking one and striking out seven.
“It’s amazing. I love watching Kyle pitch,” shortstop Nico Hoerner said. “Obviously, his style of pitching isn’t common in the game anymore. It’s just incredible to see a guy with a mastery of his craft like that against not just any team, but a really strong lineup in their ballpark.”
Hendricks had a lead before he stepped on the mound, courtesy of Seiya Suzuki’s RBI double in the top of the first inning off another heralded rookie, MacKenzie Gore. Suzuki did not complete the game, however. He exited in the sixth inning after experiencing right ankle soreness when he tried to beat out a double-play grounder in the fifth.
“I’m fine,” Suzuki said, via interpreter Toy Matsushita.
Hendricks became the first Cubs starter to reach the eighth inning this season — and then the ninth. He was tied with Marcus Stroman for the team’s previous longest start at seven innings.
It might seem harsh that Cubs manager David Ross pulled Hendricks one out away from his first shutout since July 24, 2020, against the Brewers. But Ross didn’t even intend to let him throw the ninth.
“I kind of talked him into it,” Hendricks said with a grin.
The negotiation ended with Ross letting Hendricks attempt a 1-2-3 ninth to get the shutout. Hendricks issued his only walk, however, to Jake Cronenworth, and Ross said “enough” at 116 pitches. Scott Effross retired the Padres’ most dangerous hitter, Manny Machado, to preserve the team shutout.
“Any time you get your starting pitcher out there for the ninth, it’s a huge deal,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “He gave us everything he had.”
The first time through the order, Hendricks gave the Padres a heavy dose of four-seam fastballs, none reaching 90 mph but most located on the edges of the strike zone, particularly the bottom edge. The second time through saw him throw more changeups and sinkers, with enough curveballs to put the pitch in the batters’ minds. By the time the late innings rolled around, it was the full mix and Hendricks had the Padres at his mercy.
“Yan was locked in,” Hendricks said, sharing the credit with his catcher. “It was great, calling the right pitches, the right sequences. Seeing some bad swings early helped with the confidence.”
Over his previous two starts, Hendricks allowed 10 runs in 10 total innings. But he had a good feel for the four-seamer last time out and came into Monday emphasizing that pitch.
“I felt really good,” Hendricks said. “I established my fastball down in the zone. There were a couple hard-hit balls, but they were down — not up over the middle of the plate where it could hurt.”
Hendricks will look to maintain his form next time out, but first he’s looking forward to seeing Wade Miley make his Cubs debut on Tuesday against the Padres. Miley will come off the injured list and make the start after battling left elbow inflammation.
“I’ve been waiting to watch him pitch ever since we got him,” Hendricks said. “I love what he does. I love the way he goes about it.”