Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks throws off a mound for first time in 7 1⁄2 months: ‘Man, that’s you.’

Hendricks worked to shorten his arm path while rehabbing from a shoulder injury last summer.

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Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks throws off a mound for the first time since July 5. His “touch-and-feel” bullpen Friday was 10 pitches long.

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks throws off a mound for the first time since July 5. His “touch-and-feel” bullpen Friday was 10 pitches long.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Kyle Hendricks’ “touch-and-feel” bullpen Friday lasted only 10 fastballs. But it was his first time throwing off a mound since July 5, when he left a game in Milwaukee early with a shoulder injury. So of course catcher Yan Gomes caught Hendricks, even though he wasn’t originally scheduled to do so.

“He knows me, he knows what to expect,” Hendricks said. “And he told me right away, ‘Man, that’s you.’ Action was good, angle, at the bottom of the zone, throwing strikes, over the plate. So really I couldn’t ask for any more out of today.”

The Cubs aren’t expecting Hendricks to be back for Opening Day, prioritizing getting him “back to himself” over schedule-driven timetables. The last two years, he hasn’t been the steady presence he’d been his whole career. So before sustaining a capsular tear in his right shoulder, Hendricks was focused on the angle of his sinker and establishing it down in the zone. Gomes’ assessment was meaningful, even at this stage in the -process.

While rehabbing his shoulder, Hendricks also has been working on shortening his arm path. He expects the changes will reduce the stress on the front of his shoulder.

Connection ball drills, especially, helped the new mechanics click for Hendricks. He’d squeeze the inflated yellow ball between his hip and his arm or between his forearm and shoulder while throwing to feel and repeat his checkpoints. If the ball fell out too early, he knew his motion was getting too long again.

“Just giving you some feedback of where you’re at in space with your arm,” he said earlier this spring, “then you take it away and then repeat it and pattern it.”

That work was evident in his throwing motion Friday.

“My arm path, it was quicker, it was moving,” Hendricks said. “Obviously I was moving pretty slow, just with the touch-and-feel. But everything in my body was just in sync, everything was moving faster. So when I start getting after it more and getting to a full bullpen, that should translate even more.”

Hendricks is scheduled for two more “touch-and-feel” sessions before progressing to full bullpens. But Friday was a big step.

“First real fun I’ve had in probably seven and a half months,” Hendricks said. “Who’s counting, though.”

On deck

The Cubs open Cactus League play Saturday against the Giants at Sloan Park (2:05 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM). Right-hander Marcus Stroman gets the start, with an Opening Day-like lineup behind him.

Ross announced that Gomes will start at catcher, Eric Hosmer at first base, Nico Hoerner at second, Dansby Swanson at shortstop, Patrick Wisdom at third, Ian Happ in left field, Cody Bellinger in center, Seiya Suzuki in right and Trey Mancini at designated hitter.

Simeon grad joins minor-league staff

The Cubs have hired former Brewers prospect and Chicago native Corey Ray as the Single-A Myrtle Beach bench coach. Ray, a Simeon alumnus, was the No. 5 pick in the 2016 MLB draft out of Louisville. He spent seven years in the Brewers’ system, making his MLB debut in 2021.

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