CHICAGO -- You watch Kyle Hendricks pitch, and wonder how the heck he gets hitters out. He doesn't throw 99 mph -- he barely hits 90 -- and he doesn't have a funky delivery. As Greg Maddux would say, a pitcher's best pitch is a well-located fastball, and Hendricks relies on that, even if it isn't very fast.
On Tuesday night, Hendricks befuddled the Pirates, holding them to three hits over seven innings, and got all the offense he needed thanks to Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer off Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl as the Cubs posted a 3-0 win. With his outing, Hendricks lowered his ERA to 2.09, tops in the Major Leagues. No Cub has led the National League in era since 1945 or MLB since 1938.
"I take some pride in it, but those are results," Hendricks said of the low ERA. "I take more pride in the pitches I've been making. That's been my sole focus when I take the mound, make good pitches."
"He's so confident -- he can throw the ball wherever he wants, in whatever count," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's a big part of his success right now."
How stingy is the Cubs' right-hander? This was the 18th straight start in which he has given up three or fewer earned runs, dating to May 22. It's the longest streak by any big league pitcher this season.
"All you've got to do is look at the overall numbers," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The command, the execution of pitches, I thought I was back in 1987 and it was Greg Maddux on the mound."
Josh Harrison was the Pirates' first baserunner, drawing a walk to open the fourth, but he didn't go far as Hendricks picked him off at first. The right-hander threw 15 pitches that inning, none over 90 mph. Gregory Polanco collected the Pirates' first hit with a soft single over shortstop Addison Russell to open the fifth, but he was forced at second on Starling Marte's grounder. Marte was then thrown out trying to steal second.
"It just shows the objective for them is to get outs, and it's not about [velocity]," Harrison said. "It's about locating pitches. He did that tonight."
The Cubs now are 21-6 this month, and need a win Wednesday in the series finale to match the best August in franchise history (22-6) done in 1932.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kuhl-ed off: Kuhl entered his ninth big league start on a high note, having rolled off four straight quality starts in his second stint with the Pirates. But that momentum quickly came to a grinding halt on Tuesday, when he hit leadoff man Javier Baez and served up a two-run homer to Rizzo. Kuhl paid for a one-out walk in the second inning, as Miguel Montero singled home Russell, then settled down in his final three innings of work. In fact, his last inning may have been his best: Kuhl struck out Baez and Kris Bryant before getting Rizzo to fly out to right. Still, Pittsburgh lost for just the second time in his nine starts.
"It was tough for me in the early going to get in a rhythm for whatever reason. But I found myself getting in a better rhythm, trusting everything, and I found better results."
First things first: The Cubs didn't waste any time giving Hendricks a lead. Baez was hit by a pitch to lead off the first, and one out later, Rizzo launched his 26th homer of the season to right. It was his first since Aug. 14, and second for the month. He now has 93 RBIs, tops on the team. The Cubs now have outscored opponents, 89-54, in the first inning.
"[Kuhl] was staying away the whole time, and with two strikes, he came in," Rizzo said. "It was a pretty good pitch. I just put a short swing on it."
Save of the day:Aroldis Chapman, who takes the opposite approach that Hendricks does, pitched the ninth for his 11th save with the Cubs and 31st of the season. He's one of nine pitchers to reach 30 this season. The lefty now is 11-for-13 in save opportunities with the Cubs. Chicago's bullpen was gassed after Monday's 13-inning game. Hendricks, however, also has helped the 'pen. He's now gone 3-0 with a 0.79 ERA in three starts following an extra inning game.
Missed opportunities: The Pirates didn't have many chances to crack Hendricks, and they ran their way out of at least two. With the Cubs ahead by three runs, Harrison was picked off at first in the fourth inning and Marte got caught stealing second in the fifth. Pittsburgh finally got a runner in scoring position in the sixth, on John Jaso's pinch-hit double, but Harrison flied out to center. The next two innings repeated a similar pattern. Polanco stole second with two outs in the seventh, then Marte lined out to right; Jordy Mercer doubled off reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with two outs in the eighth, and Matt Joyce flied out to deep center.
"You've got to hit some things that are down. We had some pitches to hit -- not a bunch of them," Hurdle said. "But we had some pitches to hit and we weren't able to get them where we needed to get them."
"It's a different game. I'm definitely a different pitcher than those [hard-throwing] guys. I'm just out there trying to pitch my game. Using the two-seam and four-seam fastballs, they don't have the velocity, but it gives them two different looks." -- Hendricks
"Just look at the numbers. Don't put names on things and look at numbers. The numbers are real. I think it gives every kid that's a pitcher hope out there. You don't have to be 6-4, cut, 225. He's a pitcher. He's flat-out a really good pitcher."-- Hurdle, on Hendricks' Cy Young Award worthinessMore >
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The Pirates were the last team in the Majors to be shut out this season, suffering their first blanking on June 17, courtesy of Jake Arrieta and three Cubs relievers. Since then, they've been shut out five times.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will start on Wednesday night (8:05 ET) at Wrigley Field as the Pirates try to avoid a three-game sweep. Vogelsong has pitched well since coming off the disabled list this month, going 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA in five starts.
Cubs:Jason Hammel, pulled from his last start against the Dodgers after 39 pitches over 2 1/3 innings, will close the series against the Pirates. Hammel is 7-5 with a 3.78 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) vs. the Pirates, including a 2-0 record and 2.31 ERA in two starts this season. First pitch will be 7:05 p.m. CT from Wrigley Field.