This has become a new Cubs tradition for late July — the potential farewell.
Wednesday could have been Kyle Hendricks’ last start at Wrigley Field for the Cubs, since another sell-off is very possible before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
But no one knows for sure. He could finish the season, be back next year or pitch in the World Series for another team this fall. Every option is on the table.
Hendricks was solid against Washington, allowing just 1 run and 5 hits over 6 innings. He didn’t get the win, though. The Nationals scored twice in the eighth off Julian Merryweather to tie the score, before the Cubs answered with 5 of their own. Nico Hoerner’s first career grand slam capped off the Cubs 8-3 victory.
There was no fanfare when Hendricks walked off the mound after finishing a routine sixth inning. He just stopped and got his glove checked by the umpire while fans went about their business.
“You know, I hadn’t thought quite about that,” Hendricks said about his potential final home outing. “We all know where we’re at and we know the situation. But for me right now, I’m honestly just so happy to be back playing the game, being with my guys, taking the field with my teammates every day and trying to win, after the last year that I had with the (shoulder) injury and stuff.
“Just really soaking in just playing the game right now. Wherever that happens to be, I think everybody knows obviously I really hope it’s still here. I’m having so much fun playing the game right now, that’s all I’m really thinking about to be honest.”
The Cubs have three 30-something starters on short-term contracts with Hendricks, Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly. One plausible scenario is two of the three will be moved by the deadline and the Cubs will use Hayden Wesneski, Javier Assad or Ben Brown in the rotation the rest of the season.
If the pitching assignments fall as expected, Hendricks would start Tuesday against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate, then in the final set of the four-game series at St. Louis on July 30.
The Cubs have a home game the day before the deadline on July 31 against Cincinnati, which would be Stroman’s turn to start. So it’s tough to say whether Thursday’s game against St. Louis will be his last start for the Cubs at Wrigley.
It’s been an impressive journey for Hendricks, from growing up in Mission Viejo, Calif. to college at Dartmouth to being drafted in the eighth round by Texas. He was playing in Myrtle Beach, then a Rangers Class A affiliate, when traded to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster at the deadline in 2012.
The fastest pitch Hendricks threw on Wednesday was 88.5 miles per hour, according to Statcast, and he essentially used just three pitches — fastball, changeup, sinker.
“Kyle, the pitchability, those type of guys were my favorite guys to catch,” said Ross, the former catcher. “The guys that can manipulate the baseball. The guys that could sink it in and out, get under, above, four-seam, cut the change, sink the change, both side of the plate.
“You feel like you’ve got a bag of tricks in your back pocket. If you know your hitter and can read body language and scouting report and things like that, you can have a lot of fun if Kyle’s executing that day.”
Of course, Hendricks is the last remaining player from the Cubs 2016 World Series team. But they’ve been through this before, trading Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez at the 2021 deadline, then fooling everyone and choosing not to trade Willson Contreras last year. Contreras left in the offseason anyway and will be back at Wrigley for the second time with the Cardinals starting Thursday.
Before the eighth inning, Mike Tauchman was the entire Cubs offense. He got the scoring started on a leadoff home run to the opposite field in the bottom of the first inning, his fourth of the season. The Palatine native added an RBI double down the left-field line in the fourth, then another RBI double off the wall in right-center field to make it 3-1 in the seventh.
On the second double, Tauchman was thrown out trying for third. During a replay review, fans watched Tauchman rotate his body while sliding to avoid the tag and chanted, “Safe, safe!,” but the call stuck.
In the eighth, the Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out and took the lead on a Yan Gomes sacrifice fly before Hoerner went deep.