SAN FRANCISCO — Kyle Hendricks’ strained right shoulder, which landed the Cubs’ longest-tenured pitcher on the 15-day injured list this month, dampened early trade rumors. His timeline to return remains up in the air, even after recent testing.
Hendricks’ full range of motion is back, and he has started a strength program.
“But as far as weighted range of motion things, it’s just still showing symptoms,” Hendricks said Thursday. “So that’s really the last piece of the puzzle.”
He’ll need those symptoms to subside before he resumes throwing. But he said he’s confident that he’ll pitch again this season.
While the trade scrutiny has died down on Hendricks, he has had a front-row seat to his teammates navigating uncertain futures. The Cubs opened a four-game series in San Francisco with five days to go before the trade deadline.
When closer David Robertson saw reporters converging on his locker Thursday afternoon, he called out, “I don’t know anything.” News of lefty starter Wade Miley’s rehab start with Single-A South Bend on Friday drew national attention. And Ian Happ and Willson Contreras, especially, just went through an emotional homestand knowing it could be their last at Wrigley Field as Cubs.
Hendricks acknowledged that Contreras’ teary-eyed reaction pulled at his heartstrings.
“That’s just a personal, human kind of thing,” Hendricks said, adding that he knows Contreras so well they have an unspoken language and a connection he’s never had with another catcher. “I care about him so much. And just to see where his next chapter is going to be, he’s going to be in this game for a long time. So, it’s another thing when you’re going to see these guys across the way. And we just know, that’s the nature of the game, you know?
“So, yeah, of course, you get emotional thinking about it in that way. But your focus has always been on the future. That’s kind of how we’re wired as baseball players.”
Hendricks kept pushing the conversation forward, too, beyond the trade deadline, and especially to the future of the rotation. As Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson have grown in their starting roles, -Hendricks said their confidence has impressed him the most.
“You can tell they are in control, fully know who they are as pitchers and as people, and they go out there and you can see the confidence just continue to grow,” Hendricks said, pointing to their comfort shaking off the catcher when they have a different pitch in mind. “You can see the results coming. They’re getting so much soft contact, getting big outs when we need them and just pitching really good ball games to give us a chance to win.”
They’ve been pitching deeper into games, too, giving the well-worn bullpen a bit of a rest. In his last start, Thompson threw a career-high seven innings against the Pirates. And Steele entered his start against the Giants having tossed at least five innings in his last nine outings.
The Cubs leaned heavily on their bullpen in the first half of the season due to injuries to starters and short starts. But they aren’t expected to have the same veteran back-end depth after the deadline.
Of the Cubs relievers, Robertson’s name has popped up in the most trade rumors, including reports that the Mets are interested in acquiring him. At game time Thursday, he was still on the Cubs roster.
Robertson, who began his career with the Yankees and was traded back to the club in 2017, brushed off questions about whether returning to New York would appeal to him.
“Twelve teams get in the playoffs now,” Robertson said. “There’s plenty of opportunity.”
He does have ties to Mets general manager Billy Eppler from their time together with the Yankees.
“Billy’s a great guy,” Robertson said. “I’ve spoken to him in the past. I’ve spoken to him in free agency, and when I was with the Yankees as well. Good guy. And if I see him again, I see him again.”