Kyle Hendricks Finally Pitched Like “Vintage Hendricks” for the Iowa Cubs – So What Comes Next?

Kyle Hendricks had accomplished the main goals in his first two rehab outings at Triple-A Iowa: (1) grow his pitch count to something approach starting level, and (2) healthily face live, professional, near-big-league hitters in a game for the first time in 10 months. Check, check.

The results, however, were clearly not there. It’s debatable how much that actually matters in the first couple rehab outings for a long-time veteran who knows he’s got a period of time to get himself ramped up for the games that really matter. But even accounting for that, things must’ve still been a little sideways for Hendricks, who came back to Wrigley Field this past weekend to work with the Major League coaching staff on his mechanics.

There, Hendricks was almost over-the-top in his appreciation for how well those bullpen sessions went.

“You really can’t put an amount of importance on it,” Hendricks told Cubs.com. “There’s no words for it. It’s the most important thing. These have been the most important two days, probably, of my entire rehab, to be honest with you.”

The sessions must’ve been impressive not only to the man throwing them, but also to onlookers:

So, if Hendricks left Wrigley Field in a really good place in his mechanics and his confidence, you’d expect him to finally have a rehab start at Iowa where the results were there, right? Where the 33-year-old former Cy Young finalist owned more inexperienced and lesser-skilled batters with his exceptional tunneling and surgical command, right?

I’m not being sarcastic. That’s exactly what you’d want to see, and it’s exactly what he did:

For his part, Hendricks seemed very happy with the performance. Not only the results and the extension of his pitch count, but being able to take with him the things he’s been working on and execute them well:

If Hendricks is up to 5.0 (successful) innings and 60+ pitches, I think you probably know the big question: when does Hendricks return to the big league team? The current expectation is that Hendricks will make at least one more rehab start for Iowa, this coming Sunday. That probably still happens, though he did look good to go yesterday.

From a readiness standpoint, he sure looks close to me. Moreover, since the Cubs never transferred Hendricks to the 60-day IL, there is no artificial waiting period still in place. He can come back whenever.

But from a roster standpoint, Hendricks’ return does create a rotation logjam, now that Jameson Taillon is back and Hayden Wesneski is performing increasingly well. As the only guy with minor league options available – and theoretically, with work that can be done in the minors – the most logical guess is that Wesneski will get swapped out for Hendricks.

Am I *sure* the Cubs will do that, though? As opposed to putting Wesneski in the bullpen, for example? No, I wouldn’t say I’m sure of it. I’d like to see Wesneski keep starting right now and keep developing in that way, but maybe the Cubs decide having him available, even in relief, is better than having him in the minors? I’m at least open to the conversation.

I am also not sure there won’t be some other rotation issue that pops up between now and Hendricks’ season debut, which would throw all this for a loop. There’s still some time for one of the current five to need an IL break, much as we don’t want to see that happen.

Heck, the Cubs could buy themselves even more time – if the bullpen is fresh enough – by letting the current five starters all go another time through even after Hendricks returns. It’s not really a six-man rotation, mind you, as that would take significantly more schedule changing for guys’ routines AND it would require a shortened bullpen; instead, this would be just like giving each of them an extra off-day for a week. Maybe you even stretch it to a couple turns through, and if you eventually need bullpen reinforcements, THEN maybe you option Wesneski out. It’s a little hard to predict what might happen, but if you don’t want to option Wesneski immediately, maybe that short-term six-man is the way you go.

So, if I had to guess, what we’ll see is this: Hendricks starts at Iowa again on Sunday. The big league rotation keeps doing its thing. If no clarity has arrived by five starter days after Sunday (i.e., no injuries and no monumental Wesneski implosion or something), then I bet the Cubs activate Hendricks to take a start but maybe let the other five still go one more time through the rotation UNTIL a bullpen supplement is needed. Then you just hope that things are clarified for you within the next 15 days.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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