Cubs roster moves suggest optimism in Kyle Hendricks recovery

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

It's been a couple years since Kyle Hendricks resembled the pitcher who quietly anchored the Cubs pitching staff during the team's best stretch in generations - winning an ERA crown and starting two of the biggest postseason games in franchise history in 2016.

Ineffectiveness and injuries have proven costly for Hendricks, who has made 48 starts since the start of the 2021 campaign, struggling to a 4.87 FIP, 1.330 WHIP and 87 ERA+. After undergoing shoulder surgery last year that cut his season short, the right-hander is continuing to work his way back to a big league mound.

Cubs getting all good signs from Kyle Hendricks in his road to recovery

The good news is the team's decision to place him on the 15-day IL rather than the 60-day is cause for at least some muted optimism, keeping him on track for a potential May return.

"It feels like it’s in a really good spot right now. My stuff feels good now. It’s action at the bottom of the zone. That’s who I am. I think I just gotta keep throwing the ball in and intensity and keep feeling better mentally about it. "

Kyle Hendricks, via Marquee

Chicago has no plans of rushing Hendricks back; the rotation depth Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins have assembled solid starting pitching depth, signing Jameson Taillon and bringing back veteran Drew Smyly. That doesn't even take into account young arms like Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad, both of whom impressed this spring, with the former seizing the final vacancy in the rotation.

Marcus Stroman set the tone for the staff on Opening Day, tying his Cubs career-high with eight punchouts over six scoreless frames in the team's win over Milwaukee. On Saturday, left-hander Justin Steele will look to follow that up with a strong start of his own on what's expected to be a damp, chilly day at Wrigley Field.

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This rotation is sturdy, as-is. But adding someone of Hendricks' pedigree to the picture as soon as May could have the same impact as an in-season trade pick-up and, at least right now, there's no reason to think he can't get back to being the stabilizing presence he'd been for the better part of a decade.