LOS ANGELES — An already tough Cubs road trip went from bad to worse Saturday, when right-hander Kyle Hendricks went on the injured list because of what he described as “discomfort” in his right shoulder.
Hendricks said he began noticing something while playing catch in the days leading up to his start Friday night, during which the discomfort worsened, and he wasn’t able to finish off his pitches normally.
“I just didn’t feel quite right and couldn’t get extended out really on anything,” said Hendricks, who didn’t make it out of the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss. “I’ve never really had anything [in the shoulder] before, so I don’t have much of a baseline. So we just figured it would be smart to take the time right now.”
Hendricks and the Cubs say they don’t expect the injury to be long term, suggesting he might be able to return before the All-Star break, which is in three weeks.
Hendricks is expected to be examined by the team orthopedist and have an MRI exam Monday.
But for a team that has been struggling on the road while jockeying with the Cardinals and Brewers in a three-team battle near the top of the National League Central, the loss of the rotation’s hottest pitcher is a big blow.
“Obviously, we don’t want that to happen, but I do have a lot of faith in those that are still being able to play right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And sometimes in a perverse way, this works out in your favor: The guy gets well, he comes back, he’s strong the rest of the year and even into the playoffs feels good by taking a little bit of a respite right now.”
The Cubs, who have Jose Quintana starting Sunday with Cole Hamels and Jon Lester locked in for the Crosstown Showdown against the White Sox on Tuesday and Wednesday, haven’t decided how they’ll arrange the rotation beyond that, team president Theo Epstein said.
But even with a scheduled day off Monday, the Cubs don’t plan to skip the spot in the rotation, Epstein said, mostly because they already were looking to use a sixth starter for a turn or two to provide extra days between starts for the veteran starters.
Tyler Chatwood and possibly Mike Montgomery are in play for spot starts in what could be a three-man solution for filling in for Hendricks, with top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay the most intriguing part of the mix.
“Alzolay is on a real roll at Triple-A, and we’d been planning even before this to possibly give him a couple of spot starts at some point over the next month or so,” Epstein said, “just to get his feet wet and also give our veteran rotation guys a little bit of a breather during a stretch in the schedule where we don’t have a lot of off days.”
Alzolay, who recently earned a Pacific Coast League pitcher of the week award, has a 1.93 ERA in his last five starts with 40 strikeouts and three walks in 28 innings. He last pitched Friday, making him available should the Cubs choose to slot him into the rotation.
“We’ll see if we can find a way to get him some time up here and also give an opportunity to the guys in the pen who have been waiting for their turns, as well,” Epstein said.
Replacing a former league ERA champ who described his recent eight-start roll as the best he has felt in years is another matter — for the team and for Hendricks.
“Yeah, it’s not ideal,” said Hendricks, who was 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA in that stretch, until Friday. “Especially when you’re doing that, you want to be out there for your team and give us the best chance to win. I’m just not going to be at that right now, so I can’t harm the team by trying to go out there and be a hero at this time.”