With Hendricks out, Wicks steps up to stifle Astros

Tauchman belts two dingers in series-opening victory

April 24th, 2024

CHICAGO -- There is no established timeline for ' return to the Cubs’ rotation. The veteran starter was officially shelved on Tuesday due to a back issue, but beyond that health setback there will be the ongoing search for a solution to his persistent pitching woes.

“We’re not going to stop looking for answers,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said on Tuesday. “And I know Kyle’s not.”

In the meantime, the North Siders will move forward without the last remaining member of the 2016 World Series team. And without Hendricks or lefty Justin Steele -- both now on the 15-day injured list -- Chicago knows that it needs more from the cast that is in place, especially as the Cubs face a stretch of 16 games with no days off.

Lefty Jordan Wicks was up to the task in Tuesday’s 7-2 victory over the Astros, logging a season-high six innings for the Cubs in his first quality start of the year. Chicago’s lineup spotted Wicks a five-run cushion in the first inning – Cody Bellinger (two-run shot) and Mike Tauchman (a three-run blast to begin his two-homer night) did the damage -- and the rookie used it to his advantage.

“I'll tell you what,” Wicks said with a smile, “a starter loves a five-run first inning from his offense. You can't really complain about that.”

That type of performance from Wicks -- who showed off efficiency with four strikeouts, no walks and 86 pitches in the win -- was precisely what Counsell had in mind, too.

“What's clear for me in this stretch is that we're going to have to push our starting pitching a little farther in games,” Counsell said. “I think we're equipped to do that and in a good spot to do that, but it's definitely going to be part of the next two weeks.”

As part of placing Hendricks on the IL due to a lower-back strain, the Cubs recalled righty Hayden Wesneski from Triple-A Iowa. Wesneski can offer a multi-inning option for the bullpen – the righty logged four shutout frames in relief against the D-backs during a one-day cameo in the Majors last week – or eventually offer rotation depth.

Along with Wicks, Chicago’s starting cast currently includes lefty Shota Imanaga, righty Javier Assad and righty Jameson Taillon (recently back from his own season-opening stint on the IL). The Cubs also have rookie righty Ben Brown, who has bounced between starting and relieving this season. Steele should be back some time in May, barring anything unexpected.

The volume of transactions in the season’s first few weeks have already emphasized how many players it takes for a club with October aspirations to navigate a campaign.

“Man, it’s incredible. A lot of moves already. A lot of going up and down,” Wesneski said. “You say that in Spring Training, but now it’s coming to fruition. You’re just seeing how deep we are as a team.”

At least for the time being, Hendricks is scheduled to remain with the Cubs in Chicago as he begins his rehab process. Counsell explained that the 34-year-old righty reported after his Sunday start against the Marlins that he felt his back flare up on him while warming up in the bullpen prior to his four-inning outing.

Once Hendricks is beyond the injury, Counsell said the team will “put our heads together on a plan to get him pitching better, essentially.” Through his first five turns of the season, the veteran was 0-3 with a 12.00 ERA, allowing 37 hits (eight homers) in just 21 innings of work. It was a stretch that Hendricks took hard, while holding himself to account.

Counsell was asked about some fans possibly wondering if Hendricks had thrown his last pitch for the Cubs.

“I don’t think that at all, no,” Counsell said. “Kyle’s got very high expectations of himself, so when we get past this injury, he’ll go back to work and he’s going to commit to doing everything he can. And having an effective Kyle Hendricks is something that’s going to make this team better.”

Wicks added that there was not “enough time” to scratch the surface on what Hendricks has meant to the team behind the scenes.

“It’s endless with Kyle,” Wicks said. “He talks to you about his experience, kind of what he's seen. He's the ultimate teammate. Kyle is, in the clubhouse, what we all aspire to be. He's the same guy day in and day out when he's there. He's an unbelievable teammate.

“And having him as a resource is something that you can't even put it into words, what it's meant.”