Cubs moving veteran RHP to bullpen

Cubs moving veteran RHP to bullpen

The Cubs are moving Kyle Hendricks to the bullpen for the time being, manager Craig Counsell told reporters including Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. Counsell indicated the team is hopeful that the veteran right-hander will be able to move back to the rotation in the future, but he’ll first need to improve his results.

Hendricks has been a starting pitcher for his entire career. For the first seven years of his MLB tenure, he was an unconventional top-of-the-rotation arm. Hendricks’ pristine command and ability to keep the ball on the ground more than overcame middling velocity and strikeout totals. He won the ERA title during Chicago’s curse-breaking 2016 season and picked up a pair of top-10 finishes in Cy Young balloting.

Things haven’t gone as smoothly over the last three and a half years. Hendricks posted a near-5.00 ERA in both 2021 and 2022. He returned from a capsule tear in his shoulder to turn in a 3.74 ERA over 24 starts a year ago. That convinced the Cubs to trigger a $16.5M option for this season. While it wasn’t a particularly surprising move at the time, that’s a decision the front office surely wishes it could have back.

Opposing lineups have teed off on Hendricks through his first seven starts of 2024. He has allowed 37 runs over 30 2/3 innings. Hendricks has conceded 10 home runs and has a career-low 7.7 percent swinging strike rate. His 48.2 percent grounder percentage and 7.3 percent walk rate are each respectable, but opponents have put together a massive .362/.411/.638 slash line over 151 plate appearances.

A lower back issue sent Hendricks to the injured list at the end of April. Following a three-week absence, he returned to start a pair of games against the Pirates. Hendricks tossed five innings of one-run ball in his first outing back but was tagged for eight runs in 4 2/3 frames last week. Counsell acknowledged after the game that the Cubs needed better production from that rotation spot.

They’ll try to patch that together for the time being. The Cubs are planning a bullpen game on Thursday against the Braves in what would have been Hendricks’ spot. They’ll eventually need to settle on a fifth starter behind a strong front four of Shota Imanaga, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon and Javier Assad. Righties Ben Brown and Hayden Wesneski are capable of logging multiple innings, and the Cubs could welcome back left-hander Jordan Wicks before too long.

A forearm strain sent Wicks to the injured list on April 28. Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune tweets that the former first-round pick will soon head on a rehab assignment after getting through a bullpen session this afternoon. While Wicks had a 4.70 ERA through his first five starts, a strong 25.9 percent strikeout rate offers reason for optimism that he can manage better results after being reinstated.

The injury news wasn’t all positive. Montemurro adds that reliever Adbert Alzolay is headed for a second opinion after being diagnosed with a flexor strain last week. Alzolay saved 22 games with a 2.67 ERA over 64 innings a year ago. He has had a much tougher start to the 2024 campaign, allowing 13 runs (nine earned) over 17 1/3 frames.

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