While Hendricks looks ahead, Cubs are shut down by Cards' Montgomery
Manager David Ross, asked about the Cubs' better performance of late, casually dropped a future forecast before Monday's game against St. Louis.
"I think we're all on the same page," Ross said. "Players, staff, support staff, front office staff -- I don't think anybody feels like we're that far away (from contending)."
When pitcher Kyle Hendricks stepped into the dugout to provide an update on his injured right shoulder, he mentioned he's gotten the same message about the Cubs' future and whether he fits into it.
"I need to produce and perform to be a part of this winning culture and this winning that's going to be coming," Hendricks said. "I want to be a part of that, so I'm focusing on doing as much as I can to put myself in that position."
Of course, there's no guarantee the Cubs will win even 70 games next season, but the starting rotation is looking better with the development of Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman, while Adrian Sampson and Monday's starter, Drew Smyly, are making 2023 bids.
Smyly was solid against the Cardinals on Monday, but finished on the wrong side of a 1-0 loss after giving up a solo home run to Albert Pujols in the seventh inning. It was career home run No. 693 for the retiring slugger.
Smyly said he was trying to change the eye level by throwing a high fastball out of the zone with a 1-2 count. But Pujols reached out and ripped it into the left-field bleachers.
"Don't let him hit it, was honestly my thought," Smyly said. "I know he's very aggressive. He's the machine for a reason. He's back. So tip your cap to him."
Smyly also became the 449th pitcher to give up a home run to Pujols, tying the slugger with Barry Bonds.
"It's a tough way to lose, because I executed the pitch I wanted," Smyly said. "Maybe I guess I should have gone with a different pitch, but he's Albert Pujols, he's the GOAT, one of the greatest of all time. He finally got me."
Over his last four starts, Smyly has a 0.96 ERA. At age 33, he doesn't necessarily fit with the rebuild, but the Cubs can't ignore his success either.
"I love pitching here, I love being at Wrigley, I love being a Cub," Smyly said. "They know that. I would love to stay here. I've made it clear that I love being on this team. But nothing I can do, they've got to come to me."
St. Louis starter Jordan Montgomery was dominant, tossing a 1-hit shutout. The lone hit was a line-drive double to the gap by Christopher Morel in the third inning. Morel made it to third when the Cardinals fumbled the relay throw, but with two outs, the inning ended with a Nick Madrigal groundout.
Combined with an earlier start when he played for the Yankees, Montgomery has now piled up 16 scoreless innings against the Cubs this season. He's the first pitcher to throw a complete game against the Cubs since Max Scherzer on Sept. 8, 2018, and the first opposing pitcher to toss a complete-game shutout since the Cole Hamels no-hitter on July 25, 2015.
Hendricks has been out since July 5, when he left a start in Milwaukee after three innings. He said Monday a second MRI exam showed a capsular tear in the right shoulder, so he decided to shut it down and hope to have a strong offseason.
"They said 80 to 90% of the time it heals itself, no problem," Hendricks said. "There are certain guys it may take surgery. But everything else, it all looks so good and clean, it's just that one issue. The way I throw, everything else involved, it should be no problem."
So his goal is to pick up a ball by the end of the season, play some catch, maybe throw off the mound if he feels good. Then it's all about trying to prepare for a better 2023.
The former Dartmouth star is coming off the two worst seasons of his career. From 2014-20, Hendricks never had an ERA higher than 3.95. He has one more guaranteed year on his contract at $14 million, then an option for 2024 and he's definitely thinking about the future.
"Those are the conversations we've had from the top down," Hendricks said. "For everyone, no matter where this team goes, my value needs to be at its highest heading into next year for any direction we're headed.
"I don't take any of these days for granted. I would love to be here, I've always said that. This is 'Heaven on Earth,' really. ... I want to pitch as long as I can. I love it, I don't think I'm ever going to stop loving it."