MESA, Ariz. -- Standing on the back patio at the Cubs’ complex on a recent morning, Kyle Hendricks did the mental math on the difference in time zones. The veteran pitcher was trying to figure out where he would be when the first pitch was thrown on Opening Day on Thursday at Wrigley Field.
“Day game?” Hendricks asked. “I’ll probably be right here.”
Hendricks motioned toward the Cubs’ training facility, where he will remain after camp breaks and his teammates head to Chicago for the 2023 lid-lifter against the rival Brewers. For Hendricks, it will be the first time he has not been on hand on Opening Day with the Cubs since he was a 24-year-old prospect at Triple-A Iowa in 2014.
In each of the past three seasons, Hendricks was named the Opening Day starter by manager David Ross. This year, the last remaining Cubs player from the 2016 World Series team will stay in Arizona.
Hendricks is roughly a month behind the rest of the pitchers in camp, working his way back from a right shoulder injury and fine-tuning some delivery changes.
Hendricks was thrilled to hear Marcus Stroman would be getting the Opening Day assignment this year.
“I'm so excited for him. He's obviously the guy,” Hendricks said. “What he did for us last year, being that foundation, and really the consistency he gave us. He had such a good second half, too. I mean, he was dominant, really. That consistent force.”
Hendricks said Stroman was the “perfect guy” to set the tone this season for the Cubs, who are trying to compete for a spot on the October stage. As the righty referenced, Stroman had a 2.56 ERA in his final 16 starts last year, helping Chicago’s starting staff post the third-lowest rotation ERA in the Majors after the All-Star break.
Stroman will lead a rotation that includes free-agent addition Jameson Taillon, and lefties Drew Smyly and Justin Steele. The fifth spot has contenders in Hayden Wesneski, Javier Assad and Adrian Sampson. Behind that group, the Cubs have a growing list of coming-soon pitching prospects.
The improved depth has helped Hendricks avoid feeling pressure to accelerate his comeback schedule. There is increased confidence that the Cubs’ starting group can hold the line until Hendricks is back to full strength and ready to rejoin the cast.
“I would've been stressed and pushing more, yeah,” Hendricks said. “I’d feel like, ‘I’ve got to be here for the team, pull my weight and do my part.’ But 100 percent, it keeps me a little more grounded, more patient. It helps the patience when you know you've got depth and that many options.”
Hendricks said he has three bullpen sessions left before he starts moving up to facing hitters in live sessions. From there, he will embark on a typical Spring Training-style schedule that should have him aiming for a return in May.
In the meantime, Hendricks will keep an eye on where the Cubs are playing, so he can figure out the time difference to put the game on in Arizona.
“First opener I'm missing,” he said. “It's going to be awful.”
Hendricks then smiled.
“Until I see the weather, maybe,” he joked.