Kyle Hendricks — with more velocity — set to make minor-league rehab start
As Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs worked bring back the righty to full health, they saw his recuperation time as the perfect opportunity to add back a few ticks to some of his pitches.
“There was a real sense of kind of working towards a little bit of a velocity increase and he’s felt great about that,” manager David Ross said.
When he first broke into the league in 2014, Hendricks’ four-seam fastball averaged 91.2 mph, per Baseball Savant and it sat above 90 mph through 2016. Since then, the four-seamer has dropped to an average of 86.9 mph in 2022 — the lowest it’s sat since 2017 when it was at 86 mph. That velocity drop happened to his sinker, too. In 2014 and 2015, the pitch averaged 88.2 mph and 88.8 mph. in 2022, it had dropped to 86.5.
“I don’t think he’s ever going to be the guy that throws 95, right,” Ross said. “But, when he’s been at his best, he’s got a 9 in front of that number, that miles per hour and can be really good in that.”
As he’s built back up in Arizona, Hendricks’ has touched 89 and even hit 90 at times. That rediscovered velocity will go up against Triple-A hitters on Thursday, as Hendricks makes a rehab assignment with Iowa against Louisville.
“We’re looking him for to be healthy and go out and pitch and execute pitches,” Ross said. “A healthy version of Kyle’s gonna be a good version. We believe that and especially if he’s throwing a little bit harder.”
The Cubs currently have a four-man rotation after Jameson Taillon landed on the IL last week — Steele pitched Tuesday’s opener against the Padres, with Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski to follow and then Marcus Stroman. The opening in the rotation comes on either Friday or Saturday. The Cubs could opt to go with Stroman on normal rest or push him back a day to give him an extra day. Either way, the Cubs will need a starter on one of the other days.
The team can opt to recall Caleb Kilian from Triple-A to start one of those days — he’s not scheduled to pitch for the I-Cubs against Louisville. Javier Assad, who started in place of Taillon, was optioned on Friday, so he can’t be brought back to fill the spot. Kilian struggled in his first start of the year but has allowed just 1 run on 7 hits with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts in 9 innings of work over his last two starts.
It’s unlikely the Cubs will turn to Hendricks after just one rehab start, but he could be in line to return to the big-league rotation sooner, rather than later.
“I think things can change pretty rapidly. I think the goal was to get him at 3 innings before he left. This will be 4 innings and probably in the 60-pitch range-ish. We’ll see how it goes from there. I’d like to get him multiple starts, but there’s a lot of variables in that that can also change. We’re gonna make sure we bring him up here and he’s healthy and he can help us win baseball games.”
The Cubs placed Cody Bellinger on the paternity list Tuesday afternoon and recalled Nelson Velázquez to take his place. Bellinger and his girlfriend Chase Carter welcomed a baby girl on Sunday, the couple’s second child.
The lefty has enjoyed a resurgent year so far — slashing .300/.380/.550 with 5 home runs, 15 RBI, an OPS+ of 153 and a weighted-runs created plus of 152, 52 points above league average. Bellinger will likely miss the entire Padres series before being eligible to return when the Cubs head to Miami on Friday.
Velázquez played in two games before being sent back down to Iowa earlier this month. He had a memorable grand slam against the Mariners as the Cubs rallied from a 7-run deficit.