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Cubs 1, Pirates 0: Pitching and Defense

Kyle Hendricks turned in a gem and the Cubs won for the second straight night.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Those of you who figured the Cubs were in for a low-scoring pitchers’ duel after the blowout win Monday night — good call!

Kyle Hendricks had an outing reminiscent of those he had a year ago and the Cubs put the only run of the game on the board on a throwing error and they defeated the Pirates 1-0, their sixth win in their last seven games.

That run came across the plate in the second inning. With one out, Addison Russell doubled. That brought Jason Heyward to the plate, and he hit a weak little ground ball toward second base. You know, the kind he hit way too many times in 2016.

This time, that worked to the Cubs’ benefit, as Pirates second baseman Alen Hanson threw the ball away and Russell came around to score [VIDEO].

Hendricks seemed mostly back to his 2016 self. While he still doesn’t throw 90+, his fastball was up to the 87 mile per hour range, which is just a shade below normal for him. He threw six shutout innings, allowing four singles and two walks. He got some help from his defense in posting that line. Anthony Rizzo snared this line drive in the first inning [VIDEO].

As Len Kasper noted, that would have been an easy double play, but there were already two out. In the third, Willson Contreras threw out Josh Harrison trying to steal second [VIDEO].

Kris Bryant also made a couple of nice defensive plays to support Cubs pitching. After Hendricks departed following the sixth (96 pitches), Koji Uehara, Hector Rondon and Wade Davis (fifth save) threw three scoreless innings, with just two baserunners: a leadoff double by John Jaso in the seventh, and a walk issued by Hector with two out in the eighth.

The Pirates didn’t have any trouble hitting Davis. Fortunately, all three baseballs they hit were right at Cubs outfielders, one to Heyward and two to Albert Almora Jr.

For Hendricks’ part, he was satisfied with his outing:

Some of you speculated that Cubs’ starters lack of velocity so far this year could be a result of the “dead arm” phase that normally occurs late in spring training. Between the shorter offseason, longer spring training and fewer innings thrown by all the Cubs starters this year, it’s not impossible that the “dead arm” time actually occurred during the season. Hendricks might be the perfect example of this, as his velocity over his first few starts was lower than even the sub-90 he usually turns in. This chart from Fangraphs shows Hendricks’ average fastball velocity for Tuesday night’s start as the highest it’s been all year. (Granted, just a couple ticks up from his previous outing, but still, the trend seems upward.)

Give a lot of credit to Pirates starter Gerrit Cole. The Cubs had only one other hit Tuesday night, a two-out, sixth-inning single by Bryant. Cole threw 19 pitches in the second inning, when the Cubs scored their run, but in his other six innings he threw a total of just 59 pitches. The Cubs had two other baserunners, both on walks off Pirates relievers, one in the eighth, one in the ninth. But that Hanson throwing error was enough to win the game.

Believe it or not, with all the things they accomplished in 2016, the Cubs did not have any 1-0 wins during the regular season (they did win 1-0 against the Giants in their 2016 division series). Their last regular-season 1-0 win prior to Tuesday was October 3, 2015 over the Brewers in Milwaukee. And guess who started that game? Of course, it was Kyle Hendricks.

The Pirates swept the Cubs at Wrigley about 10 days ago. Now the Cubs will have the chance to return the favor Wednesday evening. Jon Lester will take the mound for the Cubs and Tyler Glasnow goes for the Pirates.