Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks looks on after giving up a run in the third inning against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on May 25, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. He allowed three earned runs in 4 1⁄3 innings.
Kyle Hendricks’ infamous poker face didn’t betray his emotion as he warmed up at Wrigley Field for the first time in almost a year, cameras forming a semicircle around the mound. But he was soaking in the moment.
“It was so fulfilling to finally get back out there on that field,” Hendricks said after the Cubs’ 10-1 loss to the Mets, “see the fans, run out with my teammates, just the little things.”
As the Cubs fell short of a three-game sweep, all eyes were on Hendricks in his first major-league start since July 5. The Cubs activated him off the 15-day injured list Thursday to make his season debut.
“He’s what you think of [when you think of] the Cubs right now,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “He’s the longest-tenured guy. So having a guy like him here again, it’s great.”
Hendricks allowed five runs (three earned) in 4⅓ innings. But he showed flashes of what has made him great in the past.
“Kind of an emotional day, everything building up to it,” Hendricks said. “At the end of the day, just getting to this point and getting back out there was No. 1. Huge.”
With the start, Hendricks became the 12th Cub to pitch 10 or more seasons for the team. His résumé includes an ERA title as well as a World Series title.
“That’s my favorite thing about him: It’s the same human being every single day,” manager David Ross said.
The work Hendricks put in this offseason to shorten his arm path, inject athleticism into his delivery and train velocity weren’t about changing him. They were aimed toward recapturing the best version of him, and keeping him healthy, after back-to-back down seasons.
“Kyle throws the way Kyle throws,” Gomes said of Hendricks, who relies on command rather than overpowering hitters. “The guy has made a tremendous career out of it.”
Gomes caught Hendricks in Milwaukee last July when he left the game early with what was termed a sore shoulder at the time. Then when Hendricks threw his first bullpen session this spring, Gomes made sure he was behind the plate, even though he wasn’t scheduled to catch Hendricks’ session.
“I’ve been on the IL multiple times,” Gomes said. “And sometimes it just felt to me like you get pushed to the side, and you’re running your own program, and you’re trying to stay out of guys’ way. If anything from me, I wanted him to feel like he’s part of this team. He’s ‘The Professor.’ He’s a big part of the Cubs.”
Gomes was back behind the plate Thursday in a full-circle moment. He understood what it took over the last 11 months for Hendricks to make it back to the Wrigley Field mound.
“My teammates were so supportive the whole way,” Hendricks said. “Helped me so much, just having the confidence to get back out there and do my thing. But frustrating on the other hand that I wasn’t able to build on the momentum we’ve built the last two games.”
Hendricks gave up a leadoff double, two walks and a sac fly in the first inning. Then he settled in and threw a perfect inning with two strikeouts. He allowed four consecutive singles in the third on soft contact. Then he retired the side in order. He gave up a hit and hit a batter in the fifth. Then he left the game.
“Anybody can pitch when things are going well,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said before the game. “I want to see if he gets out of whack mechanically on a pitch or he loses a couple, how quick he can make those adjustments. When he’s at his best, he’ll miss one, then lock it right back in right away.”
He wasn’t quite back to the old Hendricks. But after almost 11 months on the sidelines, he wasn’t expected to be right away.