Veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks and young reliever Cody Heuer — both rehabbing arm injuries — declined at roughly the same time at the Cubs’ spring-training facility in Mesa, Arizona.
”I got to know [Hendricks] very well through the process,” Heuer said by phone this week. “And he’s been a person I can lean on a little bit, an old man that if I’m feeling down or anything Maybe then I can bounce some stuff.”
Fighting the monotony can be one of the biggest challenges in returning from an injury like Heuer’s. He had Tommy John surgery in March. Hendricks was not sidelined for long, but he missed the last three months of last season with a capsular tear in his right shoulder.
The health of Hendricks and Heuer could affect pitching staff projections in the 2023 season on the opposite end of the equation.
Predicting Heuer’s rehab program is more straightforward. He remains on track for a late June or early July comeback, 15 to 16 months after his surgery. He looks set to provide a midseason boost to the back end of the bullpen.
Hendrix’s timeline — and his performance when he finally steps on the mound again — will affect the order and depth of the rotation.
Hendricks, who completed the rehab season at the Cubs’ spring-training complex, did not meet his goal of throwing until the end of the season, instead focusing on mechanics and building strength. But pitching coach Tommy Hotowy told the Sun-Times this week that he is encouraged by Hendricks’ progress. Hendrix is on a regular throwing program and is now playing catch on level ground.
“I’m focused on getting Kyle back to being the best version of himself and not rushing it,” Hotovy said in a phone interview. “Because we all know what Kyle can do when he feels good, when he’s healthy, when he’s off.”
“Best-case scenario,” Hotowy said, “Hendricks will feel great in spring training and be ready to be in the Opening Day rotation.” But the Cubs aren’t going to rush that process to start the season with him. They look to the depth they have built through their farm system and free agency as a means to cover innings if Hendricks needs more time (or in the event of an injury to another starter throughout the season). .
If Hendricks isn’t ready by Opening Day, that leaves right-handers Marcus Stroman and Jameson Tallon to serve as veterans at the top of the rotation. Left-hander Justin Steele, who will be entering his second season as a major-league starter, looks set to take his developmental steps and play a key role from 2022 to 2023.
The biggest strength of the staff is an element the Cubs lacked at the start of last season: a great group of pitchers who can start, throw multiple innings in relief or, in some cases, depth in Triple-A. works as.
“Compared to where we are right now compared to a year ago, I think we have pretty much started to have a foundation of consistency of players that we know can go out there and compete, win ballgames, ‘ Hotowi said. ,[We’re] Starting to build that championship mindset in that championship group.
Veteran left-hander Drew Smiley, whom the Cubs re-signed to a two-year deal in recent weeks, has a good chance to start the season in the rotation. But he also has bullpen experience. Last season, right-hander Keegan Thompson showed value in a multi-inning relief role and growth as a starter.
Right-hander Edbert Alzole told the Sun-Times at the end of last season that he enjoyed serving as a high-leverage long reliever. Hottovy said he still “100%” believes in Alzole’s ability to start, but a multi-inning reliever role makes sense for managing his innings and health.
As the rotation dealt with injuries the previous season, right-handers Adrian Sampson, Hayden Wesneski, Xavier Assad and Caleb Killian filled in, but Sampson made his major league debut. As new Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart said this week: ”There’s no experience like pitching at the major-league level.”
The Cubs claimed left-hander Anthony Kay off waivers from the Blue Jays and protected pitching prospects Ryan Jensen and Ben Brown from the Rule 5 draft by putting them on the 40-man roster.
The off season isn’t over yet. The Cubs could add more pitching via free agency, and the trade market has yet to pick up. But the most obvious hole in their roster is on the back end of the bullpen.
The team began the process of filling out the bullpen last month by signing veteran Brad Boxberger to a one-year deal. Rookies Brandon Hughes and Jeremiah Estrada showed promise last season. Still, expect bullpen additions, even if Heuer is heading for a comeback.
Meanwhile, the Cubs’ spring-training complex is already buzzing, and pitchers are well represented. Heuer arrived in September to throw for the first time in six months — or, as he put it, “to really feel like a baseball player again.”
Along with him and Hendricks, at least 10 other pitchers on the 40-man roster are based in Arizona or are regulars at the facility.
It’s a mix of some veterans and a lot of up-and-coming pitchers, sort of like the pitching staff. And while it’s helpful for young pitchers to learn from those with more experience, Hotovy sees the dynamic both ways.
“A lot of young people are probably a little more willing to push the envelope to try some new things,” he said. “And I think that’s good. It’s a really good mix.”
Comment: The Cubs announced a series of roster moves on Friday. catcher pj higgins and first baseman alphonso rivas, who had been designated for assignment in recent weeks, cleared waivers. The Cubs traded Higgins out to Triple-A Iowa and granted Rivas his unconditional release.
Team re-signs reliever Brad Wieck to a two-year minor-league contract. Wieck was sidelined the entire previous season due to an elbow injury sustained during Tommy John surgery in July. He has struggled with numerous injuries and has had two heart procedures in his career.
Cubs also sign catcher Dom Nunez to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.
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