Kyle Hendricks allows one run in return from IL as Chicago Cubs outlast Pirates in 5-4 extra-innings win

PITTSBURGH — Everything seemed aligned for right-hander Jameson Taillon to start the Sunday finale at PNC Park.

He was originally supposed to take the mound Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but his start was pushed back after he felt a tweak in his lower back while throwing a bullpen Tuesday. Taillon and manager Craig Counsell indicated Friday that if the pitcher got through his pregame work feeling good Saturday, then he would be positioned to start Sunday.

Instead, the Cubs activated veteran Kyle Hendricks from the injured list and start him Sunday.

Counsell announced Hendricks as the starter following the Cubs’ 10-9 loss Saturday, explaining “we don’t feel comfortable starting Taillon” on Sunday “and we need a starter.” Although Counsell acknowledged Taillon had a good day with his work Saturday, he added it was best to give Taillon a couple more days.

“We had a step back and we’re just going to make sure that it’s OK before we send him out there again,” Counsell said.

After throwing a bullpen in Pittsburgh Friday, Counsell had stated Hendricks would make another rehab start with Triple-A Iowa on Sunday. Counsell also hoped to avoid using right-hander Ben Brown in Friday’s victory, which would have made the rookie an option for Sunday. But Brown was needed in relief of right-hander Javier Assad: he entered a tied game and tossed 3 2/3 shutout innings to earn his first major-league win.

Taillon opened the season on the 15-day IL with a low back strain he sustained in spring training. The tweak he experienced Tuesday is in a similar area, but isn’t believed to be related and not as severe as the acute pain he felt in spring. The Cubs are clearly taking a cautious approach after Taillon missed the first three weeks. He has been rolling since rejoining the rotation, owing a 1.13 ERA and allowing one earned run or less in each of his four starts.

Before Friday’s game, Taillon described his confidence level as “pretty high” that he would be able to start Sunday. He expects to get more work in pregame Sunday and potentially throw off a mound Monday to see where he’s at.

“If I need to throw (Sunday), I’m pretty confident I could,” Taillon said Saturday night. “But I think it’s more like, let’s be smart here, not risk pushing it and then something bad happening. And that would leave the team in a bad spot too. So if we can give it a few extra days, why not be smart.

“It’s kind of a weird spot to be in, but it’s just got to think of what puts the team in the best spot. I definitely think I could pitch (Sunday), but it’s the right thing to do.”

Hendricks, 34, returns needing to show significant improvement from his first five starts of the season. At the time Hendricks went on the IL with a low back strain April 22, he owned an MLB-worst 12.00 ERA among starters behind an unsightly 37 hits and 28 runs in 21 innings. Despite not pitching for the Cubs in three weeks, his eight home runs allowed are tied for third-most in the majors. Hendricks cited multiple factors to focus on while he was sidelined, namely command and pitch mix.

Hendricks made two rehab starts, including one with Triple-A Iowa Tuesday in which he gave up one run in 4 1/3 innings on 85 pitches. He struck out six and walked three hitters while throwing 62% of his pitches for strikes.

The Cubs must get more quality innings out of Hendricks beginning Sunday to warrant keeping him in the rotation.

“Excited to see him,” Taillon said. “He was really good for us last year. I’m well aware of what he can do. We’ve had a lot of injuries and stuff so just to get some stability and a consistent, solid force back is big.”