PITTSBURGH — The 2017 season is young, but a pitching rematch will take place Tuesday when the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks faces the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gerrit Cole at PNC Park.
Cole won the first confrontation, a 4-2 decision on April 14 at Wrigley Field. It was a solid outing for the big right-hander, and a much-needed one after he started the season with poor starts against the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day and vs. the Atlanta Braves six days later.
Trying to rebound from an injury-marred 2016 season, during which he twice went on the disabled list, Cole gave up eight runs in 11 innings over his first two starts.
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He has performed much better since then, beginning with the win over the Cubs (six innings, two earned runs). Last Wednesday, in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the only runs he gave up came on a pair of Dexter Fowler home runs.
“Gerrit was very competitive,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the Wednesday game. “He used his entire mix of pitches. First-pitch strikes got him in front of people. Curveball played, changeup played. A very good game.”
Cole is 1-2 with a 4.70 ERA this season. He has pitched six innings in each of his past three starts, the last two on the road. Perhaps more relevant, along with his recent work, he is 9-2 with a 3.00 ERA against the Cubs.
The Pirates will look to Cole to help recover from a 14-3 loss to Chicago on Monday. The Cubs ripped Chad Kuhl for nine runs on eight hits in 1 2/3 innings. Chicago right fielder Jason Heyward hit his third home run in four games, a three-run shot off Kuhl, and drove in another run on a ground ball. He now has 11 RBIs in his past four games.
It was Pittsburgh’s first loss to the Cubs this season after the Pirates rang up a three-game sweep of the World Series champs in the season’s first meeting April 14-16 at Wrigley Field.
If Cole is straightening himself out, the same cannot be said, yet, for Hendricks, whose 2016 season (16-8, 2.13 ERA) arguably surpassed that of his more celebrated teammate, Jake Arrieta.
Hendricks has started slowly, posting a 1-1 record with a bloated 6.19 ERA. He has allowed four home runs in his three starts. Last season, it took him 11 starts to touch that number.
Against the Pirates in his career, Hendricks is 3-2 with a 3.77 ERA.
“Kyle is still not on top of his game yet,” manager Joe Maddon said after Hendricks yielded four earned runs in five innings during a 7-4 Cubs win over the Milwaukee Brewers last Wednesday.
A cerebral craftsman, Hendricks does not throw hard, relying instead on command and location. That has been lacking so far. He walked four on Wednesday and has issued seven passes in 16 innings so far. A small sample, to be sure, but last season Hendricks was twice as efficient, walking 44 in 190 innings.