Cubs move veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks to the bullpen

CHICAGO — More than a decade into his big league career, veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks must adjust to a new role.

Hendricks will be used out of the bullpen at least through the next turn of the rotation, manager Craig Counsell said Tuesday. The Cubs aren’t ruling out using him in relief beyond this week as they continue to navigate injuries on the pitching staff and try to get Hendricks on track. They don’t currently have a starter listed for Thursday’s series finale versus the Atlanta Braves, and it will be “somewhat” of a bullpen game, Counsell said.

Over 11 seasons, Hendricks has pitched out of the bullpen in the regular season only once in 254 games when he entered in the sixth inning on July 7, 2016, against Atlanta and pitched two scoreless innings.

Through seven starts, Hendricks owns a 10.57 ERA with 36 earned runs and 50 hits allowed, including 10 home runs, in 30 2/3 innings.

“Our pitching is precarious enough right now that we can’t (be) committing to anything long-term, we are going day by day with a lot of this right now and I think we should,” Counsell said. “The goal still is to get Kyle on track and get him back in the rotation. That’s absolutely what I’d like to do.

“He wants to do what he can to help the team. I mean, that never wavers for Kyle. He doesn’t have to be happy with it, but I think he still knows that he’s going to do whatever he can to help the Cubs win games.”

Opposing lineups have torched Hendricks, 34, this season the second and third times through the order. Hendricks’ numbers have been particularly ghastly the third time he faces a lineup, with hitters combining for a .667 average, .720 on-base percentage and 1.222 OPS.

The Cubs can’t survive that level of struggle, even from a pitcher with Hendricks’ track record. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer described Hendricks as an ultimate pro who understood why the Cubs are changing his role.

“He’s had some success the first time through the order and then after that, it’s gotten pretty dicey so I think this gives him a chance to work through some stuff,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “There’s a chance he continues that trend and has success there, but there’s some signs of success in there. There’s some good things we see, but obviously, he hasn’t been able to put it together yet and he knows that.”

Nobody with the Cubs would have envisioned this as a possibility entering the season, but Hendricks’ inability to give his team a chance to be in almost every game he started became too much to overlook. The Cubs hope pitching in relief will help him get back on track.

“Our job is to win as many games as we possibly can, but as a human, I mean, I can’t imagine a better teammate, period,” Hoyer said. “I can’t imagine someone’s more accountable. And this guy’s been sort of a metronome for nine or 10 years, and he’s pitched some of the biggest games in club history.

“I think he knows how we feel about him personally as an organization. I think he also understands that we have jobs to do and so there’s a nice balance there. The relationship is obviously very good and the dialogue is very open.”

Hoyer believes Hendricks still has a lot of good baseball left in him and any questions about whether he could be part of the organization once his career is over “feel a little too final.” A path back to the rotation won’t get easier with left-hander Jordan Wicks getting closer to returning from the injured list. Wicks threw a bullpen Tuesday, the last step before going on a rehab assignment during which he will likely make two starts before rejoining the Cubs.

The Cubs are steadily beginning to get healthy. Left-hander Drew Smyly struck out five in three perfect innings Tuesday at High-A South Bend during his first rehab outing.

They activated shortstop Dansby Swanson from the IL pregame, and he was back in the lineup along with second baseman Nico Hoerner, who had missed the last six games with left hamstring tightness. Outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong and infielder Miles Mastrobuoni were optioned to Triple-A Iowa while infielder Luis Vázquez earned his first big league call-up.

Counsell said Vázquez gives them depth in the middle infield as they keep an eye on how Swanson and Hoerner feel following a layoff. The Cubs want to make sure to evaluate them day by day and determine whether they are past their respective ailments or if they must be managed.

Vázquez estimated he had about 30 family members make the trip to Wrigley Field on Tuesday for his potential major league debut.

“I feel like I can play any position in the infield, I feel like one of my strengths is my defense,” Vázquez said through an interpreter. “So I feel like I’m very versatile. I can definitely go out there and just play whatever position.”