Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks’ injury shifts focus to important 2023: ‘I need to produce’

Kyle Hendricks’ shoulder injury has shifted his focus from this season to next, the last guaranteed year of his contract.

“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 myself to do as much as I can to put myself in that position.”

Hendricks revealed Monday that the follow-up MRI he underwent earlier this month showed a capsular tear in his right shoulder, which has lengthened the timeline for his recovery. He’s set to travel to Arizona within the next week or so – “It’s a little bit up in the air” – to continue his rehab progression at the Cubs’ spring training complex.

Hendricks is scheduled to ramp up his strength program for two to four weeks in Arizona. He hopes to start a throwing program before the end of the season.

“Very unfortunate, obviously,” he said. “You just want to pitch, that’s it. I just want to pitch all year, be there for my guys every fifth day, be that consistent competitor. But things get in the way, things happen.”

At first, Hendricks expected his shoulder issue, which he and the team first identified as tendonitis, would subside after rest and a cortisone injection. And his shoulder did feel better for a little while. But after skipping a start in early June, Hendricks made just five more starts.

Two MRIs later, it became clear that the expected four- to six-week timetable would be closer to 12 weeks.

“There’s really not the time to make up, not the time to get back,” Hendricks said. “So, take advantage of fully getting healthy, not trying to push through it at all.”

He will end this season, one he’d expected to use to bounce back from his 2021 struggles, with just 16 starts. Hendricks, the Cubs’ longest-tenured pitcher, has a $16 million club option for 2024. His name had started to pop up in trade rumors before he went on the injured list.

“I don’t take any of these days for granted,” Hendricks said. “I would love to be here. I’ve always said that. This heaven, really, heaven on earth. So, I wouldn’t change anything. But it’s a business, things happen. And I’m okay with that. I if you end up being somewhere else, you just make the most of it.”

Now, this coming season will be important for potential extension talks. And if those don’t go anywhere, it will be one that sets his free agency prospects.

“Those are the conversations we had from the top down,” Hendricks said, “that, for everyone, no matter where this team goes with their route, my value needs to be at its highest next year for any direction we’re gonna take.”

That process starts with getting fully healthy.

The past few seasons have been tough on pitchers. It’s hard to pinpoint the root of injuries like Hendricks’ shoulder strain, which occurred over time rather than on one pitch. And in 2020, Hendricks was one of the Cubs pitchers who threw the most during the COVID-19 shutdown, cognizant of the issues that could spring from a dramatic change in workload. But the back-and-forth from a short 2020 season to a full 2021 season couldn’t have helped.

Now, he’s facing a similar challenge, going from an injury-shorted 2022 season to what he hopes to be a full and fruitful 2023 season.

At least he has a solid timeline in front of him, which wasn’t the case earlier this month.

“Now that we know what it is,” Hendricks said, “we just attack what we have in front of us.”

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