By the middle of the 2016 season, Kyle Hendricks had established himself as a solid rotation starter for the Cubs. He’d made 13 starts after his callup in July 2014 and 32 more in 2015.
Starting 2016 again in the rotation, Kyle made 16 starts through July 4 and posted a 2.61 ERA and 1.045 WHIP.
That’s why it was a bit of a surprise to see Kyle get up in the bullpen, then on the field at Wrigley, and start warming up in the sixth inning of the game Thursday, July 7 against Atlanta. The Cubs were trailing 2-0 at the time, and the Braves had a runner on first and two out. So not only was it a first for Kyle, entering in relief, but he did it in the middle of the inning. Joe Maddon double-switched at the time, putting Jeimer Candelario in at third base and removing Tommy La Stella (Kris Bryant was playing left field that night).
Hendricks faced seven batters and retired all but one of them, issuing a leadoff walk to Jeff Francoeur in the seventh. He was removed with two out and no one on base in the top of the eighth, with the Cubs still down 2-0.
Here are three of the plays of Hendricks’ only relief appearance, ending with a strikeout of Gordon Beckham [VIDEO].
The Cubs scored three in the bottom of the eighth to take a 3-2 lead, but Hector Rondon served up a leadoff homer to Francoeur in the ninth, blowing the save, and the Cubs lost 4-3 in 11. It’s this game, plus a couple other blown saves by Rondon around that time, that prompted Theo Epstein to trade for Aroldis Chapman.
Why was Hendricks throwing in relief? He had last started July 4, so his turn would have come up Saturday, July 9. It wasn’t the All-Star Game the following week — Kyle has never been an All-Star. I suppose it was because Maddon didn’t trust some of his relievers at the time; the Cubs were in the middle of their worst stretch of 2016, going 5-15 from June 20 through July 9. Also, this game was a makeup of a rainout April 30, and thus the Cubs lost the only off day they would have had since June 16, so Maddon needed an available arm.
Eventually, of course, they righted the ship and you know how the 2016 season ended. Hendricks went back into the rotation after the All-Star break and posted a 1.68 ERA and 0.920 WHIP in 14 starts in the second half, finishing with the best year of his career: 16 wins, a league-leading 2.13 ERA and 196 ERA+, 5.4 bWAR and a third-place finish in Cy Young voting.
Let’s hope Kyle can finish this year that well. His only career relief appearance happened six years ago today, Thursday, July 7, 2016.