It’s probably a good thing Kyle Hendricks isn’t having to deal with Chicago traffic right about now. After all, he’s got to take it easy with the middle finger that sidelined him for most of June and July last season. But the issue that he described as “like a strain of a ligament, almost” had actually been bothering him since last spring, which is why he’s being more careful this time around.
“It kinda crept out out of nowhere for me,” Hendricks told MLB Network’s Greg Amsinger. “It was in the middle finger of my right hand, like right in the middle part of it. My mechanics weren’t great at the time, I started ramping up reps a little bit.
“And after talking to the doctors, they said that’s something they see when reps start to get to high. You’re just throwing too much. So looking back, I’m able to make the adjustments now.”
You wouldn’t think a little ouchie on his bird-flipper would be a big deal for a guy as impassive as Hendricks, and it might not have been if it was just a matter of showing his displeasure with someone who cut him off in the bike lane. When said digit is responsible for the efficacy of his pitches, however, even the smallest strain is a problem.
“[You] try to work through it, but you go out you can’t even spin a curveball,” Hendricks said. “My finger just wouldn’t even rotate that way, really. You start to freak out a little bit, but try to stay calm the whole time.”
It was evident from the start of the season that Hendricks wasn’t himself, whether it was his decreased velocity or the 4.09 ERA and 4.52 FIP he compiled through 11 starts. Despite the difficulties, he kept taking the bump every five days because he was such a big part of a team that fully expected to win the division again. But with the Cubs underperforming and Hendricks clearly ailing, they decided to shut him down.
The Cubs’ newly-minted No. 2 starter credits Joe Maddon and the front office with giving him the peace of mind to really take the time he needed to step away and ensure that he was 100 percent healthy. That time off worked, as evidenced by a 2.19 ERA and 3.38 FIP over his final 13 starts of the season. Oh, his velocity was up too.
Hendricks picked up right where he left off in Wednesday’s start, striking out three and walking none in two innings of work. The only hit he allowed, a two-run homer to Khris Davis, came after Albert Almora Jr. dropped a ball that would have been the third out of the 1st inning.
The specifics are really irrelevant at this early juncture, though. What’s really important is what Hendricks does from here on out. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that what he doesn’t do is more important. He’ll be taking it easier between starts and won’t try to ramp up too quickly this time around, which should be a little easier now that he knows what to look for.
And I suppose he’ll probably try to avoid showing some of the rowdier opposing fans how he feels about their taunts.