Why the Cubs moved veteran Kyle Hendricks to the bullpen for at least one turn through the rotation – Chicago Sun-Times

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have talked a lot the past few years about getting veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks back to himself. And for the length of last season, after Hendricks returned from an 11-months recovery from a shoulder injury, they succeeded.

That vintage performance didn’t carry over to this season. And on Tuesday, manager Craig Counsell announced that Hendricks was moving to the bullpen for at least one turn through the rotation.

“Our pitching is precarious enough right now that committing to anything long term – we are going day by day with a lot of this right now,” Counsell said. “And I think we should. Look, the goal still is to get Kyle on track and get him back in the rotation. That’s absolutely what I’d like to do.”

Need and performance, however, will have to align.

Hendricks last pitched on Friday, when he surrendered seven earned runs to the Pirates, a bottom-five offense, in 4 ⅔ innings. The start wiped out the optimism created by his first outing back from the 15-day injured list (strained lower back).

He would have been in line to start Thursday, but instead, Counsell said it will likely be “somewhat of a bullpen game.”

It wasn’t like Hendricks was giving up a ton of hard contact – although a third-inning home run to Jared Triolo was a notable exception. But his line drive rate was back up Friday.

“He’s going to give up weak contact hits, it’s going to happen,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Sun-Times last week. “But when the pitches are flatter, those weak contact hits become more soft liners and not the ground balls.”

And that home run certainly didn’t look like vintage Hendricks. The changeup floated to about belt high, where Triolo could drive it out.

“With Kyle, he’s had some success the first time through the order,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “After that, it’s gotten pretty dicey. And so I think this gives us a chance to work through some stuff, and there’s a chance he continues that trend and has success there.”

The rotation has been a stabilizing force for the Cubs, even as they’ve gone through an onslaught of injuries, a recent offensive rut, and intermittent bullpen struggles.

Entering Tuesday, Cubs starters owned two of the three lowest ERAs in the majors: No. 1 Shota Imanaga (0.84) and No. 3 Javier Assad (1.49).

On a hot day with the wind blowing out to left field, Assad gave up two earned runs in 4 ⅔ innings against the Braves on Tuesday. That raised his ERA to a still dominant 1.70.

Other than last week, when Hendricks tossed five innings of one-run ball in Pittsburgh, the rotation has, frankly, been better without him.

According to Counsell, Hendricks took the conversation about moving to the bullpen well.

“He wants to do what he can to help the team,” Counsell said. “That never wavers for Kyle. And he’s willing, and he doesn’t have to be happy with it, but I think he still knows that he’s going to do whatever he can to help the Cubs win games.”

The best-case scenario for all involved would be for Hendricks to work through his mechanical issues and have something click on the mental side while pitching out of the bullpen. Then, he could again provide rotation depth and a veteran presence.

The move could present its own challenges. Hendricks, who has accrued over nine years of service time, has only one regular-season relief appearance on record. In 2016, the year he won the ERA title, Hendricks threw two shutout innings out of the bullpen against Atlanta.

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