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Cubs 5, Diamondbacks 1: The return of the real Kyle Hendricks

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The Cubs righthander had his best outing of 2019.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Kyle Hendricks’ first three starts this season were generally ones he, and we, would like to forget: far too many base hits and walks allowed, a WHIP over 2, and three Cubs losses. It was said that Kyle needed to make some minor mechanical tweaks to get back to where he’d been the last three seasons.

Whatever he did worked perfectly, as Friday’s outing was vintage Kyle, with weak contact induced for groundouts and strikeouts achieved on his excellent changeup. The allowed just three singles — one of them literally off him, his body, in the seventh — and struck out 11, helping lead the Cubs to their fourth straight win, 5-1 over the Diamondbacks on a cold, very windy day at Wrigley Field.

Windy? The announced wind speed at game time was 26 miles per hour, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that high. The wind forced some balls that would have been infield outs into the seats, and the dome-team D-backs were running all over the place chasing fly balls that they’re not likely used to seeing.

The Cubs took advantage of the wildness of D-backs starter Merrill Kelly. Two walks in the first inning amounted to nothing, but three singles loaded the bases in the second. Hendricks hit into a force play at the plate, and one out later Kris Bryant hit a wind-blown popup into center field [VIDEO].

None of the four Arizona fielders converging on the ball seemed to know what to do with it. It wound up landing untouched for a two-run double. Kelly then walked Anthony Rizzo, but the Cubs got no further runs. You’ll note the pitch count on that video: 50, with two out in the second inning. Yikes.

In the fourth, Daniel Descalso led off with a walk, and one out later Rizzo came to the plate again [VIDEO].

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a triple, Rizzo’s first of the year and just the 16th of his career. You’ll notice the pitch count on that video, too — 93, yikes, and then Kelly issued two more walks in the inning before D-backs manager Torey Lovullo had mercy on him and gave him the rest of the day off. Kelly threw 109 pitches to record eight outs.

Meanwhile, Hendricks was blowing down Arizona hitters. At one point he retired nine straight, four of those by strikeout. Of Hendricks’ 11 Ks, five were called, and you know the changeup is working well if that happens.

The Cubs put the game away in the sixth off D-backs reliever Matt Koch, who couldn’t throw strikes either. Bryant led off with a single, and then Koch hit Rizzo. Javier Baez hit into a force play, sending Bryant to third, where he scored the Cubs’ fourth run on a wild pitch. Then Willson Contreras muscled a ball into center field [VIDEO] for the fifth run.

Hendricks completed seven innings even though Christian Walker singled off Kyle’s body with one out in the seventh. Joe Maddon and trainer P.J. Mainville came out, Kyle threw a couple of warmup tosses and seemed fine, so he completed the inning without incident. Overall he threw exactly 100 pitches, 66 for strikes, and lowered his season ERA from 5.40 to 3.66 and his WHIP from 2.175 to 1.672, both trending in the right direction. Unfortunately, one long Hendricks streak ended with this pitch [VIDEO].

That was Kyle’s first wild pitch since September 5, 2016 and here’s how many pitches he had thrown since then without a wild one:

The reason Chris Kamka said “Sorry Kyle” was that just a few minutes earlier, he had tweeted this:

And then this:

Oh, well. It was a great run for Kyle, more than two years worth, and here’s a visual representation of those 6,662 pitches:

The Cubs have had some outstanding starting pitching lately:

Steve Cishek threw the eighth inning, running the Cubs’ scoreless inning streak to 31. I was going to lock up the complaint department door tight this afternoon, but Brad Brach made me open it up again by coming in and allowing three hits to the four batters he faced, including an RBI double by Ketel Marte, breaking that streak. And that was a significant streak in Cubs history:

Brach’s bad outing forced Joe to call on Pedro Strop to close things out, which he did on just nine pitches (a ground ball and a strikeout to end it). So, overall, this was about 99 percent excellent baseball played by the Cubs Friday afternoon.

One more statistical note: Diamondbacks pitchers combined for 182 pitches (in only eight innings!) while Cubs pitchers threw 135 in nine.

And so the Cubs return to the .500 mark for the first time since they were 1-1. After the 2-7 road trip, they’ve now won eight of 11, the last four consecutively, and this one was pretty much the same as the other three in the streak: Excellent starting pitching, timely hitting and (mostly) solid relief work. Keep it going! Over the winning streak, the Cubs have outscored their opponents 22-3 and in winning six of their last seven, have outscored their opponents 34-10 and only once in that seven-game span have given up more than two runs in a game (the 6-5 loss to the Angels last Saturday).

Saturday, the Cubs go for their fifth straight win in another matchup with the D-backs at Wrigley Field. Yu Darvish will go for the Cubs and Zack Greinke starts for Arizona. Game time again is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Saturday will be via ABC7 Chicago.