MESA, Ariz. — Recovering from a capsular tear in his right shoulder — or recovering according to the plan the Cubs laid out for him, at least — was always going to be a long process for Kyle Hendricks.
He’s 33 years old now. He just missed the second half of 2022 because of the injury. He’s had to tweak his delivery in part to help reduce some of the stress on the shoulder.
The Cubs have made it clear since they shut him down last August that they believe he can still regain the form that earned him National League Cy Young votes as recently as 2020. The question, though, is when they might actually see him back in a Cubs uniform.
Well, that question is closer to being answered. Hendricks revealed Saturday morning that he’s nearing the next step in his throwing program, as he’s set to throw off a mound for the first time next Friday.
“Just that expectation of what’s to come next [is exciting],” Hendricks said. “It’s been a long time, but just this fun part of getting in the next phase, getting through this long-toss program, still feeling good, taking advantage of all of it. And yeah, being able to look forward to touching the mound now. Definitely very excited for that step.”
Hendricks described the upcoming session as a “touch and feel” bullpen. He’s expecting the workload to be light, and he doubts he’ll get a chance to throw every pitch. Still, this is a long-awaited part of the process, which is nearing sixth months since his shut-down became official.
The long wait also came with a moving target date for him to start his throwing program. It wasn’t until Dec. 1 that it officially began, as he continued to focus on the mechanical tweaks that he hopes will keep him healthy and get him back to pitching at a high level. Now, he estimates he’s about a month behind where he would be in a normal year for him.
That’s what makes this feel a little sweeter. If he can get through this next step with no issues, that’s just another box he can check off the list for a return date that once felt so far away.
“I feel really happy with where I’m at,” Hendricks said. “All the video I’m seeing on myself, too, made some good changes mechanically. I’m just curious to see where we’re at when we touch the mound and make that next step.”
Again, it won’t be a full-go bullpen for him on Friday. That just comes with progressing through the program at the right pace. Hendricks expects to need a couple of those “touch-and-feel” bullpens to begin, and he hopes that he can throw a “real” bullpen the third or fourth time out.
“Every step for him is just rewarding and builds more confidence for him,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “That’s the main thing I worry about. We want to build it the right way.”
If all goes according to plan, Hendricks didn’t rule out potentially appearing in a game late in spring training. Perhaps pitching in live batting practice is more likely, but either way, that’s another step for Hendricks to look forward to on his road back. As close as that might feel, he didn’t take his time going through this process just to screw it up at the end.
And even when he does finally get to the point where’s ready to suit up again, he doesn’t want to think too much about how things will play out.
“I’m not trying to put those expectations on it,” Hendricks said. “I want to prove to myself, obviously. I’m a competitive guy, so I have something to prove obviously to myself, No. 1. That’s where it starts. I want to be a great teammate, so I just want to be here and be a part of this group I know we’ve put together. I know where we can go, so I just want to be out there again every fifth day being that consistent guy, giving my team a chance to win and so they can rely on me. That’s really what I take pride in and that’s what I want to get back to.”
When that will happen remains to be seen. But the Cubs still have complete confidence that Hendricks is going to do what he has to do to get there.
“I have no doubt about Kyle,” Ross said. “He’s one of those guys that I don’t have to talk to a whole lot. I know he’s working hard. I know he doesn’t need much. He’s got his routine, he knows what he wants to do. I check in with him probably the least amount of anybody on the team, because I know he’s right where it needs to be.”