NEW YORK — The Cubs’ struggling rotation took a punch to the gut Tuesday when Kyle Hendricks’ sore right hand appeared to worsen during his first throwing session since going on the disabled list last week.
The 2016 major-league ERA leader has been shut down again to have the injury re-evaluated by an orthopedist, possibly including a second MRI exam. The pain is in the back of his hand in the area extending from his middle finger.
“We’re pushing it back again; there’s no definitive time frame, no finish line,” said manager Joe Maddon, whose opening rotation already lost fifth starter Brett Anderson to a back injury and has its 2015 Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta, managing a nagging cut on his right thumb.
The Cubs anticipated Hendricks would be ready this weekend in Pittsburgh, which would’ve given Arrieta extra time to deal with the thumb issue.
Arrieta, who has told the team he doesn’t need the extra time, remains on schedule to start Saturday.
Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery are locked into the rotation until Hendricks returns, with little rotation depth in the organization behind them.
The rotation has been the biggest cause of the team’s 32-32 start, producing a collective 4.68 ERA.
The Cubs have trailed in 50 of their 64 games.
Until the latest development with Hendricks, Maddon insisted he had no reason to believe the struggles would continue from a rotation that returned its top four from a championship season that produced an MLB-leading 2.96 ERA and 100 quality starts.
What made him so sure? Overall good health, he said.
“I was really counting on Kyle being back the next time through,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I thought that for sure based on what I had been hearing.’’
The Hendricks news came one day after John Lackey got hit hard in a game that pushed his ERA up to 5.26 and made it easy to remember he’s 38 with almost 2,900 big-league innings (counting playoffs) on his shoulder’s odometer.
Since his 10-strikeout gem in Colorado early last month, Lackey is 1-4 in six starts with a 6.48 ERA and 11 home runs allowed.
“[Monday] night was the first time I’d seen his fastball not be his fastball,” said Maddon, who doesn’t believe anything is physically wrong with Lackey. “I thought everything was fine. And I still think it’s fine. I just think he had a bad night.
“Without injury — real injury, which Kyle’s experiencing right now— I believe our guys are going to be fine.’’