As Kyle Hendricks spins another great outing in win, his Chicago Cubs’ future remains an unknown

20 July 2023

As Kyle Hendricks entered the dugout, Chicago Cubs manager David Ross greeted the veteran with a handshake to punctuate his great outing Wednesday night.

Hendricks delivered another vintage performance in an 8-3 victory, holding the Washington Nationals to one run in six innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out five on 97 pitches.

Right-hander Julian Merryweather couldn’t hold the lead, surrendering two runs in the eighth. The offense came through again late, though, behind a five-run eighth inning. Yan Gomes’ pinch-hit sacrifice fly with the bases loaded tied the game, and Nico Hoerner’s first career grand slam buried the Nationals.

The series win sets up the Cubs (45-50) for a pivotal four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals to close out the homestand.

So many unknowns surround the Cubs’ plans in the 12 days leading up to the Aug. 1 trade deadline. Hendricks’ future with the organization falls under that uncertainty.

Based on how he is currently lined up in the rotation, Wednesday represented Hendricks’ last start at Wrigley before the deadline. If he continues to pitch every fifth game — the Cubs are off Monday — he is positioned to start Tuesday against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field and next Sunday’s series finale in St. Louis.

“You know, I hadn’t quite thought about that,” Hendricks said of the possibility of Wednesday being his last home start. “I think we all know where we’re at and we know the situation, but for me right now I’m honestly so happy to be back playing the game, being with my guys, taking the field with my teammates every day and trying to win. After the last year that I had with the injury and stuff, just really soaking in playing the game right now.

“So whatever that happens to be, I think everybody knows obviously I really hope I’m still here.”

Ross has had a front-row seat through most of Hendricks’ standout Cubs career. Ross spent six of Hendricks’ 10 big-league seasons as his teammate or manager in Chicago. That unique perspective included five regular-season starts as Hendricks’ catcher, a tandem that yielded his lowest ERA among the 10 backstops who caught at least 20 innings from the right-hander.

“Just as steady as it gets: a competitor, work ethic, demeanor, performance when he’s healthy,” Ross said. “He’s got the grit, the fortitude to go out there when he’s not healthy and give you all he’s got. He’s a problem solver out there on the mound. Great teammate, no problems on or off the field.

“A World Series brother for me, I mean, he’s a championship player, he’s a world champ and takes the ball in the biggest moments.”

It could not have been expected that Hendricks, 33, would pitch as well as he has this year in his return from a capsular tear in his right shoulder. The injury sidelined him for 10 months and 21 days between big-league starts. Since making his season debut May 25, Hendricks has been the Cubs’ third-best starter, owning a 3.38 ERA through 11 starts, including Wednesday.

He’s allowed only one walk in his last five starts (29 1/3 innings), the fewest walks he’s issued over a five-game span in his career.

“That was a little bit of a battle,” Hendricks said of his outing. “They don’t walk. They don’t strike out really so a lot of foul balls, a lot of deep counts. But at the end of the day I got outs when I needed to. I need to be a little bit sharper, a little bit more aggressive early in the count, especially getting strike one.”

There are no guarantees for Hendricks’ future with the Cubs, at the trade deadline and beyond. The Cubs have a $16 million team option for 2024 with a $1.5 million buyout. Even if president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer opts to hold onto Hendricks through the end of the season, the Cubs might not be willing to exercise the option at that salary. Perhaps instead the organization would try to retain Hendricks through a short-term multiyear deal.

No matter what direction the Cubs ultimately take at the trade deadline, one thing always rings true: Nothing is promised in this game, even for franchise greats.

“You’ve got to really feel good about your chances when he takes the mound,” Ross said. “Shoot, I love Kyle.”


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