Hendricks returns to mound, but Cubs deliver dismal performance

Cubs manager David Ross inadvertently revealed the in-house nickname for Kyle Hendricks before Thursday's return game.

"I think it was (former bullpen catcher) Chad Noble started calling him 'Karl,' but I don't know the back story," Ross said. "I call him Karl all the time."

Hendricks made his return to the mound Thursday against the New York Mets, which was good news. But no one would blame him if Hendricks opted for the pseudonym and some dark glasses after a 10-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

The performance wasn't terrible by any means. Hendricks allowed 6 hits, all singles, and 5 runs with just 3 earned in 4⅓ innings. It certainly wasn't vintage Hendricks, and the Cubs bullpen was arguably worse.

"I thought there were some real bright spots there that looked like he was really healthy and moving the ball around pretty good," Ross said after the game.

This is the fourth time this season the Cubs won the first two games of a home series, then lost the finale.

"For myself personally, after the first inning, felt much more like myself," Hendricks said. "So I'm going to take those positives I was able to do, bad contact, couple of bad hits here and there. So it's back to work this week, hopefully get in my rhythm and get in my routine, have everything be normal from here on out."

It was quite a journey to get back. Hendricks last pitched for the Cubs on July 5 of last season in Milwaukee, then took about six months to rest a right shoulder strain, before starting his offseason program and eventually starting five games for the Iowa Cubs.

"Kind of an emotional day, everything building up to it," he said. "But at the end of the day, just getting to this point and getting back out there was huge. There's so many people behind the scenes to thanks, No. 1 my teammates.

"My teammates were so supportive of me the whole way, helped me so much just having the confidence to get back out there and do my thing again. And frustrating on the other hand that I wasn't able to build on the momentum we'd built the last two games."

This turned out to be the second time in five days a struggling pitcher delivered his best performance of the season against the Cubs. Thursday is was Carlos Carrasco, who had an 8.68 ERA in four starts; on Sunday it was the Phillies' Taijuan Walker with a 6.53 ERA before tossing 5-plus scoreless innings.

The Mets strung together four straight two-out singles in the third inning to score 3 runs. One of those was unearned when Seiya Suzuki made a poor decision to try to get a runner at third. The ball got away and the hitter was able to move into scoring position.

"Got to finish better and make a couple better pitches," Hendricks said. "But I executed a lot of those, some bad contact, soft contact, which is what I'm looking for. But just have to do a better job in a baseball sense of locking in on the task at hand, finishing that inning, getting it over with, getting the guys back in the dugout."

Pete Alonso belted hit 19th home run to the opposite field off Michael Rucker in the seventh. The Cubs scored their lone run in the bottom of the first on Dansby Swanson's fifth homer.

There was talk of Hendricks hitting 90 miles per hour on the radar gun with Iowa, something he hasn't done consistently since 2016. But in this game, he topped out at 88.7 mph in the first inning, according to Statcast.

Maybe one promising sign was getting 21 called strikes, along with 10 missed swings and 5 strikeouts. Hendricks threw the fastball and changeup nearly equally, with a dose of the curve and slider.

"I was really getting some good called strikes down and away, and that's what my staple is, that's what's going to make my changeup better," he said. "Everything works off of that. Had some foundational things that were there, just have to sharpen everything up."

With the long trip back from a shoulder injury complete, is it OK if people call you Karl?

"It's such a random story," Hendricks said with a laugh. "(Noble) was my best friend, still is. He would call me it every day and it stuck. Very random."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Chicago Cubs catcher Yan Gomes, left, walks with starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks to the dugout during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the New York Mets in Chicago, Thursday, May 25, 2023. Associated Press
New York Mets' Jeff McNeil, right, scores as Chicago Cubs catcher Yan Gomes looks down during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Thursday, May 25, 2023. McNeil had stolen third base, and Gomes was charged with a throwing error. Associated Press
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