Kyle Hendricks Scheduled to Face Marlins Sunday, Ben Brown Looks Like Odd Man Out

Ben Brown started Monday’s nail-biter in Phoenix and surrendered one run over six innings, tying him with Javier Assad and Shöta Imanaga for the longest outing by a Cubs pitcher so far this season. Kinda funny that two of those guys weren’t supposed to be in the rotation and the other is brand new to American baseball, but whatever. Kyle Hendricks started Tuesday’s nail-biter and surrendered seven runs over 4.1 innings, making him the first Cubs pitcher to allow five or more earned runs in his first four starts since they became an official stat in 1913.

So naturally, it makes sense that the Cubs would find a way to keep Brown in the rotation and maybe give Hendricks a break once Jameson Taillon returns. Not so fast, my friend. If Craig Counsell was making like Lee Corso on College Gameday, he’d be donning a Professor mascot head to announce his selection. Barring a change, Taillon will toe the rubber on Thursday to open the four-game set against the Marlins for his first non-rehab start of the year.

He will be followed by Imanaga and then Assad on an extra day of rest in what would otherwise have been Brown’s spot. Rather than simply pushing Brown back a day as well, Hendricks will take the series finale on Sunday. Does this mean the hard-throwing rookie will be optioned to Triple-A Iowa to continue honing his craft? Could he shift to the bullpen to provide more of the length the Cubs so desperately need because their starters can’t go deep on a consistent basis?

We’ll find out soon enough, but what we do know is that team leadership appears willing and able to give Hendricks exactly the kind of long leash his outstanding career dictates.

“I feel like he’s had his times of struggle in the past, and he’s gotten through them,” Jed Hoyer said on the Parkins & Spiegel Show prior to Tuesday’s stinker. “My hope is that this is another one of those times. I feel like the third time through the order has really bitten him so far this year, and that’s something obviously that he’s going to work through…

“But I think we have to remember, we’re three starts into a season. He’s got 29 more probably, so I think giving him a little bit of leeway and time to work his way through it, I think it makes a lot of sense. I try to remember over and over that the things we think about in April and the things that we talk about in April so oftentimes by June, let alone August, seem so remote. So that’s hopefully how I’m looking at this rough, rough three starts, that you look up, and he’s clearly in a bad patch and that he got going again and he pitched really well.”

Even though it was a different singer, the tune didn’t change after the loss to the Diamondbacks. Not that you’d expect it to when we’re talking about public comments made on the Cubs’ flagship radio station, though I detect a sense of urgency and trying to speak something into existence.

“When you’re lacking confidence early in the year, you see guys tend to be a little bit more fine with how they attack hitters, maybe falling behind more often,” Tommy Hottovy shared with Mully & Haugh on Wednesday. “For Kyle, he’s so good when he attacks the strike zone early and gets ahead and can just stay on the attack and be aggressive. I know it was still a tough outing for Kyle, there’s still some positives to take out of it in the way he’s feeling, the way he’s moving. He’s starting to get better.

“You get to a point where the results just need to happen. I know Kyle knows that and he feels that. But he’s not going to change his approach. He’s going to continue to work and be the steady guy that he is and that’s what you appreciate with guys that do that. We know he’s going to come out of it.”

From his lips to God’s ears.

What’s funny here is that last year brought us David Ross talking about not having the runway to develop players because the Cubs were trying to win. While he shouldn’t be viewed as a panacea for the organization, Craig Counsell was hired in large part because he’d be better able to balance some of those potentially disparate goals. Or so the thinking went. Yet here we are again with a situation in which past performance is being prioritized over current production.

The Cubs have lost three of the four games Hendricks started and they needed nine runs to hold off the Dodgers in the other one. Hendricks is responsible for 24 — the most in MLB — of the 77 total earned runs the pitching staff has allowed this season, which, combined with his short outings, has put that much more pressure on the bullpen.

On the flip side, things can only get better from here. Right? This will all be a big nothing-burger if Hendricks returns to his professorial ways and regains the impeccable command that has been sorely lacking this season, but there’ll be a big ol’ turd patty between the buns if the slide continues. Hottovy talked about how Hendricks is simply paying for his mistakes right now, which is not up for debate. The problem is that the mistakes are bigger and more frequent.

As noted in a previous piece, I’m talking more about the uncompetitive pitches out of the zone than cookies that end up in the bleachers. The latter has long been an issue for Hendricks, though he’s never had a problem with walks in the past. Whether he can’t or won’t work in the zone as often, the result is that he’s falling behind hitters and may be aiming a bit. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway, and I’m not sure it’s something that can be fixed overnight.

I sincerely hope Hendricks can figure something out, though a return to anything resembling his prime is too much to ask at this point. Just getting a guy who’s able to pitch around a 4.00 ERA the rest of the way might even be a wee bit optimistic. I don’t envy Cubs leadership having to make a decision should current trends continue, but I know they can’t keep Hendricks in the rotation with the way things are going.

Please, Kyle, give me something better to write about this weekend.

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