‘Flush it’: Kyle Hendricks gives up 4 first-inning HRs as the Chicago Cubs lose 13-4 to the Atlanta Braves in an abysmal ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ debut

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Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read
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The Chicago Cubs made their 2021 “Sunday Night Baseball” debut against the Atlanta Braves, and the game was basically over before the opening cliche from ESPN analyst Alex Rodriguez.

One day after a 13-4 win over the Braves, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks served up four home runs in a six-run first inning on the way to a 13-4 loss before 10,343 on a comfortable, 60-degree night at Wrigley Field. (According to Stats Perform, it’s only the second time in baseball history that back-to-back games in a series ended with a 13-4 score.)

The Braves took two out of three in the series, leaving the 6-9 Cubs in last place in the National League Central.

Manager David Ross said before the game it’s not a distraction for the players to be in the Sunday night game, especially in the COVID-19 era when media are not allowed in the clubhouse.

“It’s a typical game, and every game is on TV,” Ross said. “I don’t know how it is a distraction. … There’s not extra media around because of COVID. Maybe it used to be more of a big deal. It’s kind of a bonus — you get to sleep in on Sunday and have a night game on the weekend.”

The Cubs probably should’ve stayed in bed all day.

Hendricks (0-2), who was scratched from his start in Milwaukee last Tuesday when he wasn’t feeling well, gave up seven runs on seven hits and three walks in four innings.

Freddie Freeman, Travis d’Arnaud, Ehire Adrianza and Guillermo Heredia homered off Hendricks in the first, and any thoughts of the Cubs building momentum from Saturday’s win were immediately dashed.

The last time the Cubs served up four home runs in an inning was July 4, 2010, against the Cincinnati Reds, when Ted Lilly gave up three and Jeff Stevens one in the seventh inning of a 14-3 Cubs loss at Wrigley Field.

That game took 2 hours, 40 minutes to complete, while Sunday night’s game clocked in at 3:26.

After entering the game with a 3.00 ERA and one home run allowed, Hendricks left with a 6.92 ERA and five homers allowed in 13 innings.

Ross called it “extremely” surprising to see Hendricks put the Cubs in such a big hole.

“When he takes the mound, you feel like you’re going to be able to settle in and kind of let the game come to you,” Ross said. “It just wasn’t his night tonight. Couldn’t find it. We trust Kyle and have a lot of confidence in Kyle when he takes the mound.”

Hendricks has endured two terrible starts that sandwiched a strong outing against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 7 in which he threw six shutout innings. Ross said it may have been a case of “rust” after the layoff, which Hendricks attributed to a cold that the Cubs were “ultra-cautious” about because of COVID-19 concerns.

“You wouldn’t want that to permeate to the rest of the group obviously and have something really bad happen,” he said.

Hendricks wouldn’t use the layoff as an excuse. He said he was unaggressive, adding all of his pitches were “flat” in the first inning.

But misery loves company, and Cubs reliever Ryan Tepera — who is available after appealing his three-game suspension for throwing at Brewers pitcher Brandon Woodruff — was almost as awful as Hendricks in only one inning.

Tepera entered in the sixth when the Cubs still harbored thoughts of a late comeback, trailing 7-3. In a brutal seven-batter stretch, he gave up a double, an RBI single, another double, hit a batter, allowed a sacrifice fly, hit another batter and served up a grand slam to Heredia to make it 13-3.

Anthony Rizzo hit a pair of solo home runs for the Cubs, doubling his RBI total to four, but once again the Cubs failed to do much damage when they weren’t hitting the long ball. Twelve of their 13 runs Saturday came on six home runs.

Their average has jumped from .166 through Friday to .192 by the end of play Sunday, inching them close to the Mendoza line. Rizzo said he sees “signs of life” from the offense.

“In the beginning of the year, you always want to get off to the (Yermín) Mercedes 8-for-8 start and be able to relax and get those hits and get all those firsts out of the way,” Rizzo said. “This is still early. It’s still not even three weeks in.

“It’s just human nature. You want to get off to a good start. The jitters are back. Fans are back. It’s just getting used to the whole atmosphere again. I think the last two days showed good life for our offense approach-wise and the way we’re hitting the ball. It’s a good sign for things to come.”

The Cubs failed to build momentum after Saturday’s big win, their first laugher of the year.

“Yeah, we wanted to build off that obviously and win the series, regardless,” Hendricks said. “Definitely disappointing, but nothing we can do about it now. Flush it.”