Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks to begin rehab assignment this week

Hendricks is targeting four innings Thursday in his first rehab start for Triple-A Iowa.

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Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa this week.

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa this week.

Jeff Roberson/AP

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa this week, the last step before his return from a strained shoulder that already has sidelined him for almost 10 months.

‘‘He’s such a competitor,’’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. ‘‘I’m just excited for him to actually get out and get into a game where he’s facing other teams, other competition. So he’s feeling good. Getting a lot of really good feedback, as well.’’

Hendricks’ first rehab start is set for Thursday. If all goes well, it won’t be long until he rejoins the big-league squad.

‘‘I’d like to get him multiple [rehab] starts,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘But there’s a lot of variables in that . . . so we’re going to make sure we bring him up here [when] he’s healthy and can help us win baseball games.’’

One of those factors is the hole in the rotation created when right-hander Jameson Taillon (strained left groin) landed on the 15-day injured list last week. Right-hander Javier Assad filled in for him Thursday, giving up two runs in three innings against the Dodgers, and the Cubs used their day off Monday to skip Taillon’s turn in the rotation this week.

When the Cubs face the Marlins this weekend, it’s unclear who will make one of the starts in the series. Right-hander Marcus Stroman is lined up to start Friday or Saturday, and left-hander Justin Steele could start on regular rest Sunday.

Right-hander Caleb Kilian might be an option to call up. After a rough first outing in Triple-A this season, he has limited opponents to one run in his last two starts. He last pitched last Wednesday and would have been on schedule to take the mound Tuesday, but he isn’t listed among Iowa’s starters through Thursday.

Taillon is eligible to return from the IL on Tuesday, but a minimum stint isn’t guaranteed.

The Cubs also have been adamant that they won’t rush back Hendricks, who hasn’t pitched in a major-league game since July. He’s targeting four innings and about 60 pitches Thursday.

‘‘He could be here as soon as possible, and he could be here a month from now or so,’’ Ross said.

All the information coming out of Arizona, where Hendricks has been building up in extended spring training, has been positive. He has touched 90 mph ‘‘a couple of times,’’ Ross said, showing an uptick in velocity.

‘‘I don’t think he’s ever going to be the guy that throws 95,’’ Ross said. ‘‘But when he’s been at his best, he’s got a nine in front of that miles per hour. . . . And that separates the deception and the speed between the changeup that is obviously effective for him. He’s always going to be a guy who has elite command.’’

Since Hendricks’ injury last season, the Cubs have talked a lot about getting him back to the best version of himself. He hasn’t been that in the last couple of seasons, with ERAs of 4.77 in 2021 and 4.80 in 2022.

While rehabbing from his injury, Hendricks also made mechanical changes. He shortened his arm path to take pressure off the front of his shoulder and focused on generating power from his back leg, which contributed to his uptick in velocity.

‘‘We wanted to see all the work he’s been doing mechanically translate to games,’’ Hottovy said. ‘‘It’s real easy to replicate that in a bullpen setting, and we wanted to see that tick up as the intensity ticked up, as the velocity ticked up. And he’s done a great job of doing that.’’

And as Hendricks’ mechanics have remained sound in simulated games, the shapes of his pitches have been in line with the Cubs’ expectations.

‘‘It’s been really encouraging,’’ Hottovy said.

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