Kyle Hendricks Feeling Good After First Full Bullpen Session, and I Am Feeling Good About the Depth
The Chicago Cubs are currently indulging a spring competition for their fifth starter spot – I like all three options! – because Kyle Hendricks is expected to miss at least a month of the regular season. Hendricks, who has been out since mid-2022, has been carefully rehabbing a capsular tear in his shoulder and then, also carefully, reworking his body and his mechanics. The goal is not only to ensure that the shoulder stays in an acceptable place from a health perspective, but also to try to bring back some of what he’d lost on his sinker-changeup combo over the last few years.
The latest step in the process was a big checkpoint: a real bullpen session.
Having thrown just a little off the mound so far this spring to get a feel for it, Hendricks yesterday threw 25 pitches in the bullpen, and it went well.
“It was a really good day, just to kind of open it up a little bit and still feel really good with the shoulder, health-wise,” Hendricks said, per Cubs.com. “That’s number one. It felt really, really good, so that’s really promising.”
That’s bullpen session number one in a planned procession of 10 total before Hendricks faces hitters in live batting practice. You could roughly estimate that’ll take about another month (it might be less, but let’s stay very cautious, as that’s how the Cubs have treated this process over the last eight months). Facing hitters in game action, whether in extended Spring Training or on a rehab assignment, is still a ways down the road.
If everything goes well from here for Hendricks, you could imagine a scenario where he is fully ramped up and ready to debut about a month into the regular season (say roughly two months from now). My guess would be it doesn’t happen quite that quickly, but that’d be your best case scenario. At that point, the Cubs would have to figure out how to re-set up the rotation.
The Cubs should be so lucky that Hendricks returning healthy – and looking good – creates an uncomfortably crowded group, and the Cubs have to make a tough decision at the back of the rotation.
The thing is, even if Hendricks is ready to return a month into the season and even if the fifth starter has been stellar in that time, the odds that one of the other four starters might have suffered an injury (or might need to miss a start or whatever) are probably much higher than we want to admit. In other words, EVEN if everything plays out perfectly with Hendricks and the erstwhile fifth starter, it’s more likely than not both guys can just slot into the rotation in early May.
And of course, if everyone is still healthy and effective, then the Cubs will simply be loaded with depth at Iowa, and/or will have some interesting bullpen decisions to make in the middle part of the season. It’s not like it would be a bad thing if Hendricks returned this year and looked like the guy he was a few years ago!
To that point, I do love that the Cubs have three guys – Hayden Wesneski, Adrian Sampson, and Javier Assad – who are all (1) big league ready as a starter, and (2) have minor league options remaining. It makes the whole process with Hendricks so much more comfortable, whatever direction it goes.
That’s not to say everything will be hunky dory no matter what, but at least this isn’t a situation where there is SERIOUS PRESSURE for Hendricks to return quickly and effectively. And it also isn’t a situation where you’re harming the overall health of your organization if you want to give Hendricks some runway to show whether he’s going to be back to full effectiveness (i.e., by having to punt a quality player from the org to make room). The Cubs can more or less accommodate all possible outcomes here, and if everyone is good and healthy, well, that’s a dream problem to have. The much worse problem is where you would suffer multiple injuries in your rotation and NOT have four+ guys available to help backfill.