Chicago Cubs carved up by Paul Skenes’ 11 strikeouts in six no-hit innings while Kyle Hendricks struggled again

The contrast between the two starting pitchers Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field could not have been more vast.

Pittsburgh Pirates fireballer Paul Skenes, featuring a fastball topping out at 101.2 mph, easily cut through the Chicago Cubs lineup. He struck out the first seven Cubs hitters, ultimately finishing with 11 strikeouts en route to six no-hit innings.

“When you’re dealing with somebody with that kind of velocity and they have command and they’re making you make split-second decisions, he did a good job,” said outfielder Mike Tauchman, who struck out three times against Skenes.

Veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks, meanwhile, utilized a command-reliant pitch mix that didn’t exceed 88 mph as he faced a Pirates offense that is the worst in baseball against righties. An eight-pitch first inning represented one of Hendricks’ few highlights from his outing. The Pirates knocked him out in the fifth after tallying 11 hits and eight runs (seven earned) in 4 2/3 innings.

The Cubs (25-21) finally produced their first hit on Christopher Morel’s bloop single to right field with two outs in the seventh, but their three-run rally in the eighth fell short.

Hendricks felt he only threw two bad pitches during his start: a 1-2 changeup to Jared Triolo for a two-run home run in the third and Nick Gonzalez’s double off a changeup down the middle in the fourth. He understood that sounded crazy given his pitching line, but Hendricks believed he executed better, specifically down in the zone, than in his last start, which also came against the Pirates.

As the Cubs have evaluated and delved into the potential issues the last few weeks behind Hendricks’ rough beginning to the season, they even looked at the quality of his stuff. Hendricks said his changeup and curveball shapes look good and the velocity increase he gained last year has held. Instead, Hendricks believes it comes down to sticking with the process and executing on the corners of the zone.

Five of the Pirates’ hits off Hendricks registered an exit velocity of at least 96 mph while eight had an expected average above .450.

“Just bizarre, so many soft hits falling in front,” Hendricks said of his Friday start. “A lot of bad contact, a lot of stuff off the end of the bat. I guess you’ve gotta say it’s one of those days where they found holes again, but it’s kind of crazy that much soft contact, for that many hits.”

Manager Craig Counsell had a different tone when discussing Hendricks’ start, though he noted he wants to take a closer look at the outing to see what’s going on.

“We certainly need better,” Counsell said. “There was a bunch of hits obviously and we ended up with eight runs on the board and that’s not going to work and that’s not going to be good enough. So, he didn’t have a good day.”

As for whether Hendricks remains in the rotation, the 34-year-old didn’t exactly receive a glowing endorsement.

Photos: Pittsburgh Pirates 9, Chicago Cubs 3

“We’re in a tough stretch right now and we’ve got eight pitchers on the injured list,” Counsell said. “We’ve got to keep doing our best to help Kyle turn the corner and I think that’s going to be really important here in the stretch we’re in. We’re going to need innings.”

With the way this season has gone, it wouldn’t be a new series without someone going on the injured list for the Cubs. Right-hander Colten Brewer went on the 15-day IL before Friday’s game with a low back strain. Right-hander Porter Hodge was brought up from Triple-A Iowa to earn his first big-league call-up. Brewer’s back started bothering him Wednesday in Atlanta. He is one of 16 Cubs to go on the IL this year, including 10 currently sidelined.

Nico Hoerner continues to feel tightness in his left hamstring, keeping him out of the lineup Friday for the fourth straight game. Asked whether the Cubs are nearing a point where they need to make an IL decision, Counsell said, “Obviously if it’s still lingering then it’s on the table, but we’re still trying to avoid it.”

Related Articles

Dansby Swanson, eligible to come off the IL Saturday, took live batting practice Friday at Wrigley Field against lefties Jordan Wicks and Drew Smyly.

If Wicks comes out of Friday feeling good, a rehab assignment is likely the next step in his return from a left forearm strain. When Wicks is ready to come off the IL, the Cubs might have a tough decision to make if Hendricks is still struggling to give them quality innings.

Hendricks sounded encouraged postgame Friday despite the ugly numbers. He said he’s felt more like himself the last two starts, which he has conveyed to the Cubs through “honest discourse back and forth,” and reiterated the importance of self-evaluation. He understands, however, that the end to his 13 years with the Cubs organization could arrive quickly should he continue to struggle to deliver good results.

“They’re gonna pick another option, you’re gonna get passed on so, yeah, that is the reality of the situation,” Hendricks said. “But my thoughts definitely aren’t there. I’m so lucky, so grateful for the time I’ve had here. It’s been absolutely unbelievable, amazing. Fans have been everything. But my focus is on what I’m doing right now, my process and pitching and executing pitches, mixing speeds. Just doing what I normally do and then the results have got to come.”