Hendricks ready to 'lock in' and 'go'

March 20th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- was cruising for four innings Tuesday night before running into some trouble in the fifth.

After walking off the mound in his penultimate start of the spring, the right-hander sounded like a pitcher ready to get the season started.

"For the most part, executed what we wanted, made a lot of good pitches, got the volume up," said Hendricks, who allowed four runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings in the Cubs' 4-1 loss to the D-backs at Sloan Park. "I felt good with that. All the ups, so a lot of positives overall. One more left, lock it in and get ready to go."

In five starts this spring, Hendricks has allowed 12 runs on 22 hits over 16.2 innings (6.48 ERA), but spring numbers aren't his concern.

Hendricks has been experimenting with his curveball grip to make the pitch more effective, mixing it in with his standard arsenal as he prepares for his 11th season with the Cubs.

"You just kind of pick your spots through the lineup," Hendricks said. "Predetermine before we go out for the game a little bit when we're going to use it, then reevaluate. Pick a hitter where I'm going to play my game and then pick a hitter where I might work on something."

Cubs manager Craig Counsell was already quite familiar with Hendricks from his years managing against him in the NL Central, but he's been impressed with what he's seen during their first spring together.

"He's really good at what he's good at," Counsell said. "It's as simple as that. He trusts what he's good at and he's just incredibly solid mentally. There's clarity to his compete mode, and that's a great thing. … He's always exploring something a little new without letting them throw off what he's really good at."

Time running out?

was scheduled to return to the lineup on Tuesday, but his back continues to bother him, prompting the Cubs to further delay his return.

"Patrick got going today and didn't feel great, so we scratched him," Counsell said. "Not really sure what's going to happen next, but obviously, it's concerning that we had to stop today."

Wisdom, who dealt with a quad issue earlier this spring and hasn't played since March 13, has played in only six games this spring, compiling just 16 at-bats. He's scheduled to see a doctor for further evaluation, after which the Cubs will figure out the next steps.

"We're nine days from Opening Day," Counsell said. "This means probably we're into later in the week before he plays because we scratched today, so there's some concern."

Should Wisdom have to open the season on the injured list, the Cubs could turn to rookie Alexander Canario or veteran Garrett Cooper – a non-roster invitee who would have to be placed on the 40-man roster – to fill his spot.

"You don't make decisions until you have to in this game for those reasons," Counsell said. "It's a tough week for these guys because we're close, it feels really close and it is really close. But we've also got a week of baseball games left. They're on the schedule for a reason. We've got to play them and we might learn something this week."

Madrigal getting closer

While Wisdom remains sidelined, (right hamstring) continues to take at-bats on the Minor League side, inching closer to a return. Madrigal could be ready for game action by the weekend, though Counsell said if he were to play, it'd most likely be Minor League games.

Madrigal has had only 13 at-bats in six games this spring, last playing on March 4 when he suffered the injury. His availability for Opening Day remains murky, so the Cubs will keep him on the Minor League side to keep any IL options open.

"It just puts us really close," Counsell said. "I'm not sure. We don't have an answer yet there. He's just got a chance to be ready [by Opening Day], but it may be pushing it."

One thing is clear: the Cubs have no plans to rush either Wisdom or Madrigal, focusing on the big picture rather than the season-opening roster.

"We've got to play it for a seven-month season and not make decisions for one day," Counsell said. "Make them for getting a good roster for seven months and that's how we'll think about it. I'm sure more things will pop up."