Hendricks holds 'most important' bullpen session at Wrigley

May 6th, 2023

CHICAGO -- It may have only been a bullpen session at Wrigley Field, but Cubs veteran  called it a critical part of his comeback. On Saturday morning, the pitcher threw in front of the team's pitching group, getting real-time feedback on his progress.

"You really can't put an amount of importance on it," Hendricks said. "There's no words for it. It's the most important thing. These have been the most important two days, probably, of my entire rehab, to be honest with you."

Hendricks threw to catcher  in a regular between-start mound workout on Saturday under the eyes of Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and his staff. It was an opportunity to get instant feedback from the eyes and minds who have known the right-hander for years.

Before Hendricks heads out for his next Minor League rehab start with Triple-A Iowa (scheduled for Tuesday), the pitcher wanted to work through some mechanical issues in his delivery. In his first two rehab outings with the I-Cubs, he struggled to repeat his motion and get proper downward angle on his pitches.

"Coming in here already," Hendricks said, "getting two days with Tommy and the rest of the guys, I've gotten some really good stuff. And it's better already. I'm able to take this stuff with me now -- go throw some more games."

When the 33-year-old Hendricks took the mound for Iowa on April 27, it marked his first affiliated game action since July 5 last season. He was sidelined the rest of the year due to a capsular tear in his right shoulder, necessitating rest, rehab and reinvention.

Hendricks posted a 4.78 ERA in 48 games across the 2021-22 seasons, following a seven-year run in which he logged a 3.12 ERA over 175 games for the Cubs. That includes winning an MLB ERA title (2.13) and starting Game 7 of the World Series in 2016.

Once Hendricks advanced to throwing again over the offseason, he worked on an alteration to his arm path with the aim of reducing strain on his shoulder. The veteran also took a velocity training program, hoping to regain a few key ticks on the radar gun.

In his most recent rehab outing on Wednesday, Hendricks topped out at 88.5 mph with his sinker and 89 mph with his four-seamer. His averages checked in at 87.4 mph (sinker) and 88 mph (four-seam) -- a noticeable jump over last year's rates.

"It validates everything we've been working on," Hendricks said. "We've put in all the work, and it's showing now. It's definitely showing, and it's coming through in my starts and all that. Now, I've almost got to revert a little bit and get back to the mindset of who I was.

"Back to being who I am, locating my pitches, because the work I've put in -- how I'm moving, my arm path and all that -- it's pretty locked in and almost second nature."

Through two Minor League outings, Hendricks has allowed 10 runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 combined innings with Iowa. After getting the in-person feedback from the Cubs this weekend, his hope is to build up to around 75 pitches in his outing on Tuesday.

Hendricks is not sure how many more Minor League league starts he will require, but said the performance of Chicago's rotation helps his patience. Entering Saturday's game against Miami, the Cubs' starters had combined for a National League-leading 3.20 ERA.

Chicago also wants to make sure the timing is right -- both in terms of how Hendricks is feeling and pitching, and the rotation situation -- before activating him from the IL.

"We just want to get him back to being 100 percent him," Cubs manager David Ross said. "He's had a long layoff. But when he gets back and is the version of him that we all expect, that's a really good situation for us."