Probably the most important first sentence here is that Kyle Hendricks felt physically fine during and after his start yesterday, his first since June 4. Hendricks had been out with tendinitis in his right middle finger, the discomfort from which took weeks to abate. So, again, the important thing here for today is that Hendricks feels good. Good.
The secondary thing, though, which is certainly not unimportant, is that Hendricks didn’t look especially great yesterday. Some of that is to be expected as a guy ramps back up from missing nearly two months, and I am not any more concerned about him after yesterday than I was earlier this year.
But the problems that plagued the very start of Hendricks’ season were on display in full force yesterday: his fastball command was not great, and his velocity was down. To the second point, the velocity wasn’t just down from last year, it was down from earlier this season, which was already troublingly down (via Brooks):
As you can see, last year Hendricks sat comfortably in the upper-80s for most of the season after taking some time to ramp up. This year, the opposite has been true, and yesterday’s start was among his lowest velocity games of the year. It’s worth pointing out that the gun at Wrigley Field has likely been a little light this year – all of Hendricks’ big dips you see up there this year came in starts at Wrigley – but that definitely doesn’t account for the entirety of his velocity decline. It’s real, it’s here, and it might be here to stay.
We know that Hendricks can still be effective at that level with pinpoint command and great movement on his offspeed stuff. The latter looked good yesterday, the former did not. The reality of an 85 mph fastball is that it takes your margin for error to about zero, especially in a juiced baseball era.
If Hendricks continues sitting at 85 mph with his fastball, he’s going to give up a ton of hard contact, as he was earlier in the year. Even his offspeed pitches are starting to become so slow that you’d worry about them losing effectiveness as well.
The hope here is that yesterday’s extra low velocity was the product of his time away, and also whatever Joe Maddon described after the game as the ball not quite coming out right for Hendricks (CSN). Hendricks is hopeful that getting back onto his normal routine will help (Sun-Times).
Mechanically, I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt Hendricks can at least get that velocity back up into the 86-87 mph range where he was before his injury, when he was having his best success of the season. From there, maybe he ramps up a bit like he did last season, and we start seeing the occasional 88 mph. These are tiny variances that don’t sound like much, but every MPH when you start to get into that range can really make a big difference.
We just have to wait and see what comes next. I’m still betting on Hendricks to be a good and effective member of the rotation (think 2015, not so much 2016), but I’d sure feel a lot better if we see dramatically improved signals on the command and velocity fronts next time out.