After the worst injury of his career, Kyle Hendricks is back — even if his timeline is murky
Kyle Hendricks is feeling completely healthy and has been on a throwing program for more than a month already.
That’s the good news.
The bad news for the Cubs and their fans is Hendricks likely won’t be ready in time for Opening Day as he recovers from a capsular tear in his right shoulder that forced him to miss the final three months of the 2022 season.
Hendricks began his throwing program on Dec. 1 after being shut down for 4.5 months — “the first time in my life I’ve gone that long without throwing,” he said.
He is ecstatic to be 100% healthy and feeling normal again and the MRIs continue to come back clean. But he and the Cubs want to take things slow and cautious, especially given the long layoff and the severity of the injury. Doctors estimate that in some 30% of capsular tear cases, the player ultimately requires surgery.
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer admitted Hendricks will be “a little bit behind” other Cubs pitchers when players report to Arizona for Spring Training next month. The team has plenty of in-house options to fill out the rotation at the beginning of the year, especially with the addition of Jameson Taillon and the return of Drew Smyly.
Those two will likely pair with Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele in the rotation with the last spot going to possibly Adrian Sampson, Keegan Thompson, Hayden Wesneski or another internal option.
Right now, Hendricks has stretched out to throwing from 90 feet off flat ground. He has not yet begun twirling his full complement of pitches and isn’t expected to get off a mound until late February or early March.
In a typical offseason, he would begin his throwing program in November and carry that into Spring Training.
“It’s hard to say right now where we’re really at,” Hendricks said. “[Opening Day] might be pushing it a little bit. I feel really good and I feel really healthy so I obviously want to push it. But I gotta listen to other people sometimes and just take it day by day.
“…I want to be there as soon as I can. Hopefully I’ll be there sometime in April but I’m just gonna take it day by day. I’ll see once I get off that mound and see how it goes and see how much they want me to build up. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. I’m just trying to stay healthy and enjoy the throwing and have fun again.”
It has been difficult for Hendricks to take his foot off the gas pedal as the competitor in him is really pushing to ramp up for the season. He said he constantly has to remind himself to take it easy and trust the doctors.
Hendricks expects the Cubs to be competitive in 2023 and is using that as motivation to take the slow and steady approach in his recovery. He hopes that he can return to the rotation and provide a boost to the team this spring.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” he said. “That’s helping me mentally maybe take a step back for a minute and just focus on the process again. And just make sure I really am 100% and giving all I can to this team and my guys. I don’t want to be out there struggling and not quite right again.”
During the few months off, Hendricks took the time to work with the Cubs pitching infrastructure to clean up his mechanics. He felt he was getting really long with his arm motion and is searching for a little bit of a shorter motion that will also keep him healthy and avoid putting stress on his shoulder.
Hendricks has already chatted with new teammate Taillon about how the former Yankee and Pirate has changed his mechanics throughout a career that has already featured a pair of Tommy John surgeries.
Hendricks doesn’t feel like his mechanical changes are drastic but admitted it felt weird initially. Now, he’s used to it and it feels like the way he’s been throwing his whole life. He also hopes the new arm path can help him find more consistent results after an up-and-down couple years from 2021-22.
The veteran right-hander posted a 4.78 ERA in 48 starts over the last 2 seasons after sporting a career 3.12 ERA in 175 outings prior to 2021.
It’s also a contract year for Hendricks, who is only signed through 2023 (he has a $16 million vesting option for 2024).
“The hope is make everything sharper again,” Hendricks said. “When you’re cutting things off, it’s not having the life that it’s going to have over home plate. And you give up a little bit of that against these hitters, they’re way too good.
“Basically I just want to make sure I have full extension again, I’m finishing all my pitches and that’s where my good action’s gonna come from and hopefully get a lot of soft contact.”