PHILADELPHIA -- Kyle Hendricks isn’t ready to close the book on his 2021 season just yet.
Of course, the veteran right-hander knows the situation. The Cubs are out of postseason contention and Hendricks -- one of the most-used pitchers over the past seven years -- is in the midst of the worst season of his career. That’s all coming off a shortened 2020 season in which every pitcher was forced to throw fewer innings.
Hendricks’ latest stumble came in a 17-8 loss to the Phillies on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park. Though the Cubs jumped out to an early lead with a seven-run third inning, Hendricks gave it all back when he was charged with a seven-run frame of his own in the fourth.
For Hendricks, who was lifted with two outs in the fourth, it marked the third time in his past four starts that he's allowed at least six runs. It's also the third time in that span that he's pitched fewer than five innings -- something he's done a career-high eight times this season.
“It just looked like he couldn't execute much,” manager David Ross said. “It looked like the command was off. It didn't look like he trusted his stuff tonight. Very uncharacteristic of Kyle. ... I didn't see the guy I normally know: aggressive, fastball to both sides.”
After holding the MLB-best Giants to one run over six innings his last time out, Hendricks looked poised for another solid outing after cruising through three scoreless innings against the Phillies.
That all changed in the fourth. Hendricks allowed a leadoff double to Bryce Harper, then hit J.T. Realmuto with a pitch one batter later. The Cubs righty went on to allow four hits, two walks and hit two batters in the inning before departing with two outs and the bases loaded.
“We've seen a little bit of that from time to time on the backside of this season -- just that one inning where it kind of derails him a little bit,” Ross said. “Just not his best night.”
Hendricks' latest outing raised his season ERA to 4.81 in 30 starts. Though the overall numbers certainly aren't what he and the Cubs have come to expect, it's still the fifth time in the last six full seasons (excluding 2020) that he's logged at least 30 starts.
His 191 starts since 2015 rank fourth in the Majors, trailing only Max Scherzer (197), Zack Greinke (196) and Jon Lester (196), while Hendricks' 1,137 1/3 innings in that span are fewer than only Scherzer (1,280), Greinke (1,231 2/3) and Gerrit Cole (1,176 1/3).
Given that workload, coupled with the shortened 2020 season that limited Hendricks to just 81 1/3 innings (still the third-most in MLB), it’s fair to wonder how much the Cubs will push the 31-year-old veteran down the stretch -- though he’s certainly not ready to shut things down for 2021.
“It's super important to me,” Hendricks said of finishing out the year. “I'm going to take the ball when it's given to me every fifth day. I just have to be much better for this team going forward. I'll have a lot to address in the offseason.”
Of course, the Cubs are in a very different spot than they have been in recent years. They made the playoffs five out of six seasons from 2015-20, and remained in contention until the final week in '19.
With the postseason out of the question, Chicago needs to decide what’s best for a pitcher who is signed through 2023 with a club option for '24.
“He doesn't want that, I'll tell you that,” Ross said about scaling back Hendricks’ workload. “He feels good, he feels fine. But we'll look at that and kind of do what's best for him going forward.”
A key factor noted by both parties is that none of Hendricks’ struggles have stemmed from either health or fatigue issues.
"If something was wrong, I'd definitely let people know," Hendricks said. "We're so open around here, especially with Rossy -- the relationship we have goes a long way back. I'm completely open with him, tell him everything I'm going through. That's not the case now. I feel good, I feel healthy like I said.
“It's simple: just making a lot of bad pitches."