Cubs moving Hendricks to relief role

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer sees a move to the bullpen not as a demotion for veteran pitcher Kyle Hendricks, but an effort to save his career.

The only player on the current Cubs roster from the 2016 World Series team is off to the worst start of his career, with a 10.57 ERA in seven starts.

Manager Craig Counsell announced a move to the bullpen for Hendricks before Tuesday's 4-3 victory in 10 innings against Atlanta at Wrigley Field. The winning run scored when Nico Hoerner, back from a hamstring injury, hit a high-bouncing ground ball that went for an infield single and scored Cody Bellinger from third.

Hendricks’ next turn in the rotation would have been Thursday afternoon.

“I think he has been successful first time through the order in a lot of these games, so I think that's something that gives us some hope,” Hoyer said. “In my career, I think the bullpen makes guys attack (hitters). That's really important. A lot of times that puts guys in the right mindset.”

The validity of Hoyer's statement depends on how you look at it. Hendricks has allowed runs in the first inning just once in his seven starts, and none of the last five. But his ERA during the first time through a batting order this season is 6.14, which obviously isn't great.

But the idea is an aggressive mindset and bullpen success could pave the way for better results as a starter.

Hendricks has made just two relief appearances in his 11 seasons with the Cubs. One was in the 2018 wild card game against Colorado, and the other in 2016 just before the all-star break.

“The goal still is to get Kyle on track and get him back in the rotation,” Counsell said. “That's absolutely what I'd like to do.”

Hendricks, 34, expressed confidence after his most recent start on Saturday against Pittsburgh, believing he's on the right path after a rehab stint in the minors and can still turn his season around. He's in the final year of his contract.

“He wants to do what he can to help the team, that never wavers for Kyle,” Counsell said. “He doesn't have to be happy with it, but I think he still knows he's going to do whatever he can to help the Cubs win games.”

Counsell suggested Thursday will be a bullpen game for the Cubs, so it seems likely Hendricks will take the mound at some point. Hoyer didn't want to entertain any post-baseball questions about Hendricks, such as whether he could continue to work for the team.

“I think he has a lot of good baseball left to pitch.,” Hoyer said of the former Dartmouth pitcher. “He's going to be successful at anything he does, frankly.

“I can't imagine any better teammate. This guy's been sort of a metronome for nine or 10 years and he's pitched in some of the biggest games in club history. Do I root for him to succeed at an incredibly high level? Yes, because I can't imagine a person being more accountable, more humble and just going about things the right way for such a long time.”

Javier Assad had the unenviable assignment of taking the mound on a warm Tuesday night with the wind blowing hard toward left field. He allowed home runs to Orlando Arcia and Michael Harris II, but worked his way out of some jams before leaving in the fifth inning with 3 runs allowed, 2 earned. Assad gave up a career-high 5 walks.

The bullpen played a big role, with Mark Leiter Jr., Hayden Wesneski, Hector Neris and Luke Little retiring 12 in a row during the final four innings.

The Cubs couldn't take advantage of the good hitting conditions and didn’t hit any home runs. Mike Tauchman had a pair of RBI singles, while the Cubs scored 2 unearned runs — one on a passed ball, and another set up by a dropped infield pop up.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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