Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks knew something was wrong on his first warmup pitch after taking the mound Tuesday night at American Family Field.
He felt fine roughly 25 minutes earlier as he went through his typical pre-start routine in the bullpen. But when he began warming up for the bottom of the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers, he experienced discomfort in his shoulder.
“Uncomfortable, just not a good feeling,” he explained.
The discomfort lingered through Hendricks’ entire outing, and he eventually departed the Cubs’ 8-3 victory after three innings because of right shoulder soreness.
As expected, the Cubs placed Hendricks on the 15-day injured list Wednesday after an MRI revealed a right shoulder strain. Double-A Tennessee pitcher Anderson Espinoza was recalled to take Hendricks’ roster spot.
“It’s just super frustrating that I felt really good coming into this, doing everything good,” Hendricks said Tuesday. “My volume has been down so I just don’t know where it came from.”
Hendricks said the feeling was similar to what he experienced in early June, which he called “a little encouraging.” It’s otherwise a disappointing development for the veteran, who did not sound overly concerned about the situation.
“The first warmup pitch of every inning is the worst, and then it kind of gets OK, more manageable from there,” Hendricks said. “But it’s not on any particular pitch or anything.”
Hendricks went 12 days between starts in early June because of shoulder/arm fatigue, describing it then as similar to a dead arm that pitchers can experience during spring training. He wasn’t able to get adequately loose, contributing to the layoff, though he avoided the IL.
Something appeared off early in Hendricks’ start Tuesday. He is known for his command and doesn’t light up the radar gun, but when he threw a sinker clocked at 83.8 mph in the first inning, it was notable. He grinded through the start before manager David Ross thought it was best to pull him.
“It’s one of those things where you can grind through it,” Hendricks said. “It’s really uncomfortable, but you can just keep going. It’s not going to blow up on you or anything. I told (Ross) that it’s been a lot worse, nothing terrible, I can give you as much as you want here.
“But he made the determination obviously, probably for the best. A smart move just getting out of there and let’s evaluate and see what we’ve got.”
Hendricks, 32, looked good coming off the extended break from his previous ailment. In his four starts leading up to Tuesday, he allowed nine runs in 22⅔ innings — six runs coming in one start — with 25 strikeouts and three walks.
However, Hendricks’ average velocity during Tuesday’s start was 1 mph slower than his season mark. Right-hander Matt Swarmer started warming up in the bullpen during the second inning and again in the third.
Ross made a mound visit to chat with Hendricks after a two-out walk in the second. Swarmer replaced Hendricks to start the fourth.
“I just wanted some honesty. I try to cut out the middleman sometimes,” Ross said of the mound visit. “Just makes it a little easier to look somebody in the eye, hear their words, hear the tone of their voice and I felt pretty confident. He’s very honest with me, so we have that kind of relationship and I trusted in that and he got us through the third.”
Ross didn’t want to read too much into Hendricks’ shoulder discomfort, preferring to wait and see what a doctor says.
“I don’t get too concerned,” Ross said. “We deal with this stuff a lot, a lot more than is presented to you guys, so we try to listen to the player.
“He tried to push through and it just didn’t look good. My gut was to take him out.”
The Brewers scored two runs and recorded two hits off Hendricks, who threw 69 pitches, including 29 in the first. He issued two walks, struck out four and allowed a home run by Rowdy Tellez that gave the Brewers a 2-0 lead in the first.
The Cubs bullpen gave the offense a chance to erase the deficit as Swarmer, Rowan Wick and Michael Rucker combined to give up one run and three hits in the final six innings. Ross called on Wick in the seventh to get out of a bases-loaded jam with nobody out. Wick needed only seven pitches to prevent the Brewers from scoring, getting a lineout and inning-ending double play.
“A lot of these games, quick turnarounds and a tough schedule,” outfielder Ian Happ said. “So for the bullpen guys to do for us was massive.”
Hendricks’ shoulder issue is another blow to the rotation’s health, though right-hander Marcus Stroman and left-hander Drew Smyly are nearing returns. Before Tuesday’s setback, Hendricks was starting to find consistency, something that has eluded him for stretches the last two seasons.
He’s 4-6 with a 4.80 ERA in 16 starts, and now won’t return until after the All-Star break at the earliest.