SAN FRANCISCO — Is it too early to say “I told you so”?
Maybe, but I’m saying it anyway. I told you Kyle Hendricks would come back and throw like The Professor again. Was Saturday’s brilliant eight-inning, one-hit outing a one-off? Possibly, but I don’t think so. Hendricks was, as the headline says, vintage Professor in this game, changing speeds, getting weak contact and making the most out of what was once — and perhaps will be again — the most devastating changeup in the game.
All that and a couple of home runs from scuffling hitters Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel added up to a tremendously satisfying 4-0 win over the Giants, the Cubs’ first road win on a Saturday in 2023.
The Cubs took the lead in the top of the third on this leadoff homer by Mervis, his third [VIDEO].
Mervis keeps making good swings and getting solid contact. If David Ross would just leave him in the lineup for a few days for him to get some rhythm, I think he could start himself on a nice hitting streak.
In the bottom of that inning, there was the kind of defensive play you sometimes see in no-hitters. Mike Tauchman’s diving grab stole an extra-base hit from Brandon Crawford [VIDEO].
Tauchman might wind up a footnote in Cubs history, but he’s doing a reasonable impression of Cody Bellinger, playing decent defense and hitting okay, though without the power Bellinger has. Tauchman likely sticks around when Bellinger is back, as he appears to be a perfectly fungible fourth outfielder. That catch impressed the folks who run our SB Nation Giants site:
Holy crap. He might not be playing for the Giants anymore, but Mike Tauchman just had one of the best OF defensive plays that Oracle Park has ever seen.— McCovey Chronicles (@McCoveyChron) June 11, 2023
Robbed Crawford of multiple bases.
The Cubs put another run on the board in the fourth on another solo homer, this one by Morel, his 10th [VIDEO].
Two more Cubs runs scored in the fifth. Nick Madrigal walked with one out and Tauchman dumped a double down the left-field line, moving Madrigal to third.
Meanwhile, Hendricks was starting to get the weak contact he’s been famous for. After a one-out walk in the second, he retired 19 straight Giants before Mitch Haniger broke up Kyle’s no-hit bid with a no-doubt double to left with two out in the eighth [VIDEO].
Hendricks finished the eighth with a fly to left, 94 pitches, 61 strikes, just the one walk and three strikeouts. It’s the second time in his career he’s taken a no-hitter into at least the eighth inning. The other one was September 12, 2016 in St. Louis, when he threw eight full no-hit innings, only to have the no-no broken up by a leadoff homer by Jeremy Hazelbaker in the ninth inning. Kyle finished the one-hitter that night; on this night David Ross gave him the rest of the evening off after the no-hitter was broken up in the eighth, a job well done. I assume Ross would have at least let him start the ninth if the no-hitter had been intact.
Julian Merryweather was summoned to finish the game, and he did so with two fly balls to the outfield and a K of Thairo Estrada. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].
This game was the second time a Cubs pitcher has taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning this year; the other, of course, was Drew Smyly, who had a perfect game broken up with two out in the eighth against the Dodgers April 21 at Wrigley Field. Thus it’s also the second combined one-hitter thrown by Cubs pitching this year and the team’s seventh shutout overall. They only threw 11 shutouts all of last year.
Whether Kyle Hendricks continues to pitch like this remains to be seen, of course. Nevertheless, I think every Cubs fan has to be excited about what they saw Saturday evening. Hendricks was touching 88-89 with his fastball even in the seventh and eighth innings, and that made enough difference to make his changeup effective. All three of his K’s were on changeups, and of the 24 outs he recorded, 13 were on ground balls. That’s what Kyle has to do to be on his game — and he seems 100 percent healthy and ready to keep doing it.
And of course, Kyle’s utterly and completely modest in his postgame comments:
It was also a vintage Kyle Hendricks press conference after he almost threw a no-hitter, crediting multiple defenders by name and his pitching coaches: “Got to do a better job of getting ahead a little bit. Still some things to improve and work on. But definitely feeling good.”— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) June 11, 2023
"You realize pretty early what you're doing."— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) June 11, 2023
Kyle Hendricks following the longest no-hit bid in MLB this season pic.twitter.com/CWYrO5IuDZ
So it would appear that the Cubs have another solid starting pitcher and may I remind you that 98 games remain in this season. There is a long way to go and maybe, just maybe, the Cubs can sort out the bullpen mess and get just enough offense to put together a winning streak. Consider this:
The Oakland A's have won 4 straight games: 2 at the Pirates, 2 at the Brewers. Or, the class of this dumb division.— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) June 10, 2023
That’s just crazy. The Cubs are just as good as anyone in the NL Central and yes, I still believe they can win it. And with — perhaps — vintage Kyle Hendricks returning, why not? As most of you know, Hendricks has been my favorite Cubs player for a very long time. I just love watching him carve up MLB hitters with stuff you’re not supposed to get 2023 hitters out with — and yet he does:
Kyle Hendricks showcased vintage command today, darting most pitches on the edges. It's an incredible effort coming back from a potentially career-ending injury...to this. He deserves all congratulations and I'm sure his respect, which is already high, just elevated even more. pic.twitter.com/Kd5VmLvG6o— Brendan Miller (@brendan_cubs) June 11, 2023
Incidentally, when Thomas Smith’s Heroes and Goats posts later this morning (at 10 a.m. CT) and you are asked who your choice is for Cubs Player of the Game, if you vote for anyone but Kyle you should be ashamed. Seriously — this was one of the best-pitched games of Kyle’s entire career. May he have many more.
One other game note:
Seiya Suzuki isn’t in the Cubs lineup today as Ross gives him a breather because Suzuki is dealing with “some small things.”— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) June 10, 2023
Ross says he’s available off the bench.
It must be something not baseball-related as Suzuki is 6-for-15 (.400) with two doubles over his last four games. Hopefully he’s back in the lineup Sunday and can continue that.
Interestingly, after John Brebbia held the Cubs scoreless on just 19 pitches in two innings of work, the Cubs scored all four of their runs off Jakob Junis. Then Sean Manaea came in and retired 13 of the 14 Cubs he faced — only Ian Happ reached on a HBP in the eighth off Manaea. Good thing for the Cubs that Gabe Kapler used those guys in that order. And speaking of Brebbia:
John Brebbia will open again tomorrow. Tristan Beck should be a candidate to serve as the bulk guy.— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) June 11, 2023
Interesting choice, using the same opener two days in a row. Hayden Wesneski will start for the Cubs Sunday afternoon as they look for an improbable road sweep, something they haven’t done since... the last time they were in the Bay Area, against the A’s in April. Game time Sunday is 3:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and MLB Network outside the Cubs and Giants market territories).