Starting-pitching depth could be a Cubs strength again soon

Can Kyle Hendricks’ impending return spark a rebound?

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Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is expected to join the team in Chicago this week.

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is expected to join the team in Chicago this week.

Morry Gash/AP

The Cubs’ slide started with a blow to their rotation depth. But with the team now on the precipice of a starting-pitching boon, the coming weeks will show whether that can spark a rebound.

Veteran Kyle Hendricks is expected to join the team this week in Chicago, where the Cubs will decide when to slot him into the rotation. Prospect Ben Brown has been impressive at Triple-A Iowa. Javier Assad soon will be able to be recalled whenever the Cubs need him. And rookie Hayden Wesneski is honing his execution at Iowa.

‘‘My experience as a farm director [with Cleveland] is it’s always feast or famine,’’ Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said at the start of May.

Jameson Taillon’s groin injury last month happened to fall during a famine stage. Adrian Sampson (now on the 60-day injured list with a meniscus injury) was hurt, Assad wasn’t fully stretched out after beginning the season in the bullpen, Brown was at Double-A Tennessee and Hendricks hadn’t begun his rehab assignment.

That marked the beginning of a 9-20 stretch for the Cubs, which has included lapses in each facet of the game, from starting pitching to the bullpen to the offense.

‘‘Obviously, you don’t want to lose games,’’ left-hander Justin Steele said after throwing six scoreless innings in the Cubs’ 2-1 loss Sunday to the Phillies. ‘‘But I feel like, as a team, everybody’s showing up every single day [and] doing the right things to prepare for the game.’’

The offense has received a recent boost from Christopher Morel’s recall and Seiya Suzuki finding his rhythm at the plate. Now the rotation is set for an addition.

After Hendricks’ last rehab outing, manager David Ross said that as long as he recovered well and stayed healthy, the Cubs would look at a slot to line him up in the rotation.

Though Ross wouldn’t specify a timeline, that slot might come as soon as the Cubs’ series this weekend against the Reds.

‘‘The mechanical stuff that we’ve really honed in on in the bullpen sessions has really gotten him back to feeling like he’s more like himself,’’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. ‘‘He’s executing pitches the way he wants to.”

The Cubs have used their recent days off to make a four-man rotation work since optioning Wesneski to Iowa a week ago. They needed extra help in a short bullpen, and Wesneski had given up seven runs in his last start, all on home runs to Twins lefties.

‘‘He’s got the mix to be able to get lefties out at a high, high level,’’ Hottovy said. ‘‘It was just about executing all those.’’

Early in the season, Wesneski’s slider — his bread-and-butter pitch — was a little off. So the Cubs had him cut back on using his cutter to simplify the process of getting back the shape of his slider. But the cutter is a key pitch for Wesneski against lefties. And when he reintroduced it, he wasn’t throwing it as hard as usual.

‘‘The biggest thing for me with him is, now that the shapes are good, now that he’s gotten things where he wants to, it’s about, ‘Go execute your pitches,’ ’’ Hottovy said. ‘‘And then if shapes start changing and we need to readjust something — a grip or a tweak or something — we can. But just go back to the compete mode and go get guys out.’’

Wesneski threw five scoreless innings in his first Triple-A start of the season Saturday. He also issued four walks.

Rotation questions remain, however. Will Hendricks’ offseason adjustments translate to a bounce-back season? How quickly will Wesneski make adjustments in Triple-A? Soon, however, the Cubs’ starting-pitching depth might be a strength again.


Tuesday: Kodai Senga (4-3, 3.77 ERA) vs. Drew Smyly (4-1, 2.86), 6:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM,

Wednesday: Tylor Megill (5-2, 3.88 ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (3-4, 3.05), 6:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Thursday: Carlos Carrasco (0-2, 8.68 ERA) vs. Jameson Taillon (0-3, 8.10), 6:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

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