Hendricks’ 7.54 ERA this month is the highest April ERA of his career. He allowed seven earned runs in the Cubs’ 10-0 loss to the Braves on Wednesday.
ATLANTA — The Cubs’ starting rotation was built on pitchability and being able to go deep into games. So far, however, things have not gone as planned.
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks entered the season as the Cubs’ ace, but he hasn’t pitched like one in his first five starts. Hendricks struggled mightily against the Braves on April 18, allowing four home runs in the first inning in his first start after going on the COVID-related injured list.
While some of those struggles could be attributed to rust, many of the problems that plagued Hendricks in that game and through the first month remained in the Cubs’ 10-0 loss Wednesday to the Braves.
‘‘It’s a lack of location right now for him,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘Tonight looked a little bit more like the bad starts to me.’’
Being able to locate any pitch in any count at any time has been Hendricks’ signature throughout his career, and his inability to do that has been his biggest issue this season.
The Braves again took advantage of Hendricks’ mistakes in a four-run first inning, with two two-run homers starting a long night.
Hendricks hung a curveball to Marcell Ozuna, who crushed a 451-foot blast to give the Braves a quick 2-0 lead. Three batters later, Austin Riley lined a two-run homer of his own on a changeup over the inner third of the plate to put the Cubs in a 4-0 hole.
‘‘I’ve just gotta make better pitches,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘So many pitches over the middle of the plate that are flat right now. Did a little bit better of a job getting ahead, but just got to make better pitches. Just too many bad pitches over the middle of the plate.
‘‘I just don’t have a good feel right now of the hitters. It’s kind of a perfect storm because everything’s kind of off.’’
The Braves added two runs in the second before pitcher Huascar Ynoa launched a solo homer off Hendricks in the fourth to make it 7-0. It was only the second homer by a pitcher this season.
Command has hurt Hendricks during the first month, and so has the long ball. He allowed 10 homers in 12 starts last season but already has yielded 10 in five starts this season.
‘‘The bullpens look good,’’ Ross said. ‘‘I think he’s been encouraged — we’ve been encouraged — by the bullpen work. It’s just not translating to the game right now. . . . There’s definitely frustration that he’s going through right now because he’s putting in a lot of work and still trying to figure that out.’’
Hendricks has been a master at avoiding hard contact, but teams have hit him hard this season. His 36.2 hard-hit percentage this season is significantly higher than his career 30.1 hard-hit percentage.
Hendricks’ final line featured seven earned runs and 11 hits in 32⁄3 innings. The loss closed the book on Hendricks’ April. His 7.54 ERA this month made it the worst April of his career. He reached the sixth inning in only two of his five starts.
‘‘I know I haven’t been great in April, but I’ve never been like this, either,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘This is really bad right now, so I need to simplify my focus. Get back to establishing my heater with the right action that I normally have on it and start with that. I’ve got to start as simple as I can right now.’’