Kyle Hendricks opened the 2020 season with perhaps the best pitching performance of his career for the Chicago Cubs. Cincinnati's Sonny Gray wasn't too shabby in his opener, either.
Hendricks and the visiting Cubs aim for a fourth consecutive victory on Wednesday night in the continuation of their four-game set against Gray and the Reds, who have lost four in a row.
The Chicago right-hander kicked off this unprecedented and shortened season in grand fashion, allowing three hits and striking out nine without a walk during a complete-game effort in the Cubs' 3-0 victory over Milwaukee on Friday. With that gem, Hendricks became the first Cubs pitcher to throw a nine-inning shutout on Opening Day since Bill Bonham in 1974, and the first major leaguer to accomplish the feat since the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw in 2013.
"He's just out there hitting the corners and going to work and going to school like he does," teammate Anthony Rizzo told the Cubs' official website.
It might be tough for Hendricks (1-0, 0.00 ERA) to top that performance, but he is 6-3 with a 3.84 ERA against Cincinnati. And, he might have even more incentive considering Chicago (4-1) is a confident group after taking the first two of this series.
Javier Baez homered twice in Chicago's 8-5 win on Tuesday. The Cubs have totaled 25 runs and homered seven times during their three-game winning streak.
Of course, the Cubs face a potentially stiff challenge against Gray (1-0, 1.50 ERA). The right-hander was solid during Cincinnati's 7-1 win over Detroit on Friday, yielding a home run and two other hits while striking out nine -- including the 1,000th punchout of his career -- and walking one over six innings.
Gray, at the moment, is the ace of a talented Cincinnati starting rotation that also includes Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer -- who each allowed a run in their first starts of the 2020.
"There is no denying that Sonny has stepped up," manager David Bell told the Reds' official website. "He's a leader. He sets a great example."
Gray saw plenty of the Cubs in 2019, going an impressive 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts. That included a 2-0 mark with 20 strikeouts and a 2.60 ERA in three starts at Cincinnati.
He's also handled three of Chicago's top hitters as Baez, Rizzo and Kris Bryant are a combined 3 for 32 with 11 strikeouts against Gray. Bryant, off to a rough 1-for-17 start this season, could miss a second straight contest due to a reported elbow issue.
The Reds, though, must find a way to end their four-game slide since Gray's Opening Day gem. While Cincinnati's starting pitchers have been relatively solid early on, its bullpen has allowed eight homers and posted a 7.50 ERA over the last four contests.
Cincinnati's Joey Votto, batting .333 with five RBIs on the young season, has fared very well versus Hendricks. For his career, Votto is 11 for 28 with three doubles, three home runs and has walked a whopping 12 times against him. Meanwhile, teammate Eugenio Suarez is a career .194 hitter when opposing Hendricks.
Suarez has endured a rough start, going 1-for-17 through the first five games.
--Field Level Media