The buildup to Kyle Hendricks’ return to the Chicago Cubs went beyond the weeks and months that flipped by, intertwined with the highs and lows of a grueling rehab process.
Even the typically unflappable Hendricks admitted to an emotional Thursday leading up to his first big-league start in nearly 11 months. It all came down to managing everything within the buildup: his emotions, the speed of the game and execution of pitches.
“It was just so fulfilling to finally get back out there on that field,” Hendricks said. “See the fans, run out on the field with my teammates, just the little things. I took it all in. You don’t take that for granted.”
Two hours before Hendricks stepped on the mound against the New York Mets, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy outlined one goal he had for the veteran.
It didn’t center on numbers — pitching line or velocity — but rather how Hendricks would respond to adversity in what wound up as a 10-1 Cubs loss.
“Anybody can pitch when things are going well,” Hottovy said. “I want to see him, if he gets out of whack mechanically on a pitch or he loses a couple, how quick he can make those adjustments. When he’s at his best, he’ll miss one and then lock it right back in right away.
“Obviously we’re not expecting him to be midseason form, peak Kyle, but his ability to make those adjustments and stick to what he needs to do in those moments is going to be key.
“It’s been almost a year since he pitched in a game here. He’s going to be pretty excited and how can you handle those moments? And how can you handle the ability to make those adjustments when you need to?”
The Mets tested Hendricks early in his first start since July 5, loading the bases in the first inning and taking a 1-0 lead on a Brett Baty sacrifice fly. Hendricks quickly bounced back with a perfect second, featuring two strikeouts.
He felt more like himself that inning as he got back to focusing on one pitch at a time. It might be a cliche, but it’s a mantra Hendricks relies on to stay within the moment.
“The first inning was a little bit all over the place,” Hendricks said. “I was able to just get through it and battle and then was able to make a lot of good pitches from there on out.
“There’s some good things to build on, but obviously some frustration never giving us a chance tonight.”
He started strong again in the third with two outs, including another strikeout. But the Mets responded with four consecutive singles to score three runs and take a 4-1 lead; one run was unearned because of a Seiya Suzuki throwing error.
Hendricks again settled in the next inning, retiring the Mets in order in the fourth. He came back out for the fifth and struck out Francisco Lindor before allowing a single to Jeff McNeil and hitting Pete Alonso with a pitch. Brandon Hughes relieved him and allowed one runner to score on an error.
The Mets made Hendricks work, forcing him to throw 86 pitches to get through 4⅓ innings in which he allowed five runs (three earned), six hits and two walks and struck out five. He became the 12th player to pitch for the Cubs in at least 10 seasons and the first since Kerry Wood in 2012.
“It’s almost like a breath of fresh air when you get to see him around and what he’s meant to this organization,” Hottovy said. “I’ve seen him almost since he made his debut here, so it’s been fun to get to see his career. And now to have him back, you feel like you have the pieces to your puzzle back together.”
Hendricks hopes he can get back to his normal routine with his season debut out of the way. The whiffs he produced down in the zone with his changeup and 15 called strikes between his sinker and four-seam fastball were encouraging signs.
“Everything works off of that,” Hendricks said. “So I was happy to see some of those at least and had some foundational things that were there. Just need to kind of sharpen everything up.”
Nick Madrigal became the odd man out in the Cubs infield mix with Hendricks’ return.
The Cubs had carried an extra position player while using a four-man rotation since Hayden Wesneski’s demotion to Triple-A Iowa on May 15. Hendricks coming off the injured list Thursday meant the bench needed to be trimmed.
Madrigal was the casualty, optioned to Iowa as the corresponding move.
Manager David Ross said Madrigal took the news professionally and they had a good conversation in which Ross outlined his vision for Madrigal’s future. It starts with regular playing time in Triple A at second and third base.
“We knew where we saw him and we knew where he stood in his thoughts,” Ross said. “Nick is a really high-level player. We want to get him back to the best version of him because that’s when we’re going to be at our best.”
Madrigal’s fit on the Cubs roster took a hit when they signed shortstop Dansby Swanson to a seven-year, $177 million deal in December, forcing Nico Hoerner to move back to second base. Madrigal spent the rest of the offseason learning third base to improve his defensive flexibility and create a path toward playing time. Bench coach Andy Green traveled to Arizona to work with Madrigal for a week.
Madrigal held his own at third in 16 starts. The Cubs took note of how he continued to put in work defensively.
“The thing I’m most proud of for him is the way he took to third base,” Ross said. “He’s played a great third base, really clean over there. That’s hard to do. That’s kind of gone unnoticed publicly. I just keep marveling at the ability for him to make so many different types of plays and the arm strength and how he’s built that up and the way his body’s moving.”
Madrigal’s contact-hitter profile provides value when he’s locked in. During his two seasons with the White Sox before hamstring surgery and a trade across town, Madrigal showed he can get on base enough without a high walk rate. That hasn’t happened enough in a Cubs uniform.
The team hopes he can get his timing back with regular at-bats at Iowa. In 98 plate appearances this year, Madrigal hit .247 with a .286 on-base percentage and 63 OPS+.
Patrick Wisdom and Miles Mastrobuoni will continue to get most of the playing time at third base with Christopher Morel seeing most of his at-bats as the designated hitter.
Source: Berkshire mont
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