Kyle Hendricks tosses 81-pitch shutout

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In an age of heavy bullpen usage, complete games are rare. Shutouts are even more rare. Complete game shutouts with fewer than 100 pitches have always been rare. So rare, in fact, that a friend of HardballTalk — Jason Lukehart — has invented a fun stat called “The Maddux,” to memorialize the feat.

How about a complete game shutout with only 81 pitches? That’s pretty rare too, but Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs just tossed such a game this afternoon, beating the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0.

In so doing, Hendricks became the first dude in nearly seven years to throw a nine-inning shutout with so few pitches. Aaron Cook of the Red Sox needed 81 to beat the Mariners on June 29, 2012. Hendricks’ was just the eighth nine-inning shutout with 81 or fewer pitches since they began keeping track of pitch counts in 1988.

Even more insane is that Hendricks not only did it efficiently, he did it slowly:

These days even the old coach throwing BP is sitting mid-90s, so maybe the Cardinals simply didn’t know how to hit such “gas.”

Hendricks surrendered only four hits along the way. He didn’t walk a batter. He only struck out three guys too, which is crazy in this day and age. But it also means fewer pitches, yes? And it’s not like the Cardinals sent out a crappy lineup today either. It was all their A-guys, as you would expect in the first game of a rivalry series between two teams battling for the NL Central title. They just got shut the heck down.

Work fast, throw strikes. It’s a formula that has worked for as long as there has been baseball. If only more guys did that.