Craig Counsell’s patience is running low after another rough start from Kyle Hendricks

CHICAGO — Kyle Hendricks couldn’t match the 100 mph fastballs that Paul Skenes kept firing past the Chicago Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. Hendricks’ game, though, never revolved around pumping up the velocity or worrying about what anyone else was doing. It’s supposed to be all about shifting speeds, changing eye levels, reading hitters’ swings and giving his team a chance to win.

At a critical point in the late stages of his career, Hendricks couldn’t have asked for a softer landing spot when he came off the injured list last weekend. Two starts against the Pittsburgh Pirates in six days — including a 1:20 p.m. start at the Friendly Confines — represented a great opportunity to demonstrate his value and get back into a rhythm.

This season, however, has not gone according to plan. As a group, the Cubs have plowed through the injuries and competed well enough to compile a 25-21 record. But the individual situation with Hendricks, the team’s longest-tenured player, remains precarious.

And it sounds like Craig Counsell’s patience is running low.

“We certainly need better,” Counsell said after watching Hendricks give up eight runs in Friday’s 9-3 loss. “That’s not going to work. And that’s not going to be good enough.”

Counsell admires the unique skills and laser focus that Hendricks used to become the last man standing from the 2016 World Series team. While managing the Milwaukee Brewers, Counsell saw up close how Hendricks’ precision and preparation could leave hitters walking back to the dugout in frustration.

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Kyle Hendricks leaves Friday’s game after allowing 11 hits and seven earned runs over 4 2/3 innings. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images)

That same sharpness and conviction simply haven’t been there for Hendricks, who posted a 12.00 ERA in his first five starts and then went on the injured list with a lower back strain. There was progress in last Sunday’s start at PNC Park, where he gave up one run across five innings. But the Pirates don’t have a great lineup, and this time Hendricks couldn’t finish the fifth inning on a day when Skenes had no-hit stuff.

Does Hendricks stay in the rotation?

“We got to look at the start a little closer and see what’s going on,” Counsell said. “We’re in a tough stretch right now. We’ve got eight pitchers on the injured list. We’ve got to keep doing our best to help Kyle turn the corner. I think that’s going to be really important here. In the stretch we’re in, we’re going to need innings.”

Hendricks sounded much more upbeat. He regretted “two bad changeups,” including the one that Jared Triolo, Pittsburgh’s No. 9 hitter, launched into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer. He called it “bizarre” as he replayed all the soft contact within the 11 hits he gave up against the Pirates. One of those eight runs was unearned as sloppy defense continues to cost the Cubs.

“There’s definitely honest discourse back and forth,” Hendricks said. “(Counsell) has been great, just being honest with me. I’ve given him the positive thoughts on what I’ve had. My starts in the beginning, the stuff was up. The focus wasn’t quite there. But these last two, I’ve felt more like myself, down in the zone executing.

“There’s a lot of good conversations among the whole staff. Everything they’re trying to do for me and help me out, I couldn’t ask for more. It’s just the results weren’t there today.”

Hendricks knows there are only so many tomorrows for any major-league player, but especially one who is 34 years old with an 88 mph fastball. The Cubs don’t want to give up on a pitcher who’s so accomplished and respected, especially at a time when so many injuries have battered their pitching staff. Like Counsell said, a team that expects to play into October will have to cover a lot of innings.

Searching for positives, there were moments when Hendricks appeared to be locked in again. There was some bad luck involved. There is a long track record of success to fall back on. There are just no guarantees that things will turn around.

“If you’re not getting the results in this game, yeah, they’re going to pick another option,” Hendricks said. “You’re going to get passed on. That is the reality of the situation. But my thoughts definitely aren’t there. I’m so lucky, so grateful for the time I’ve had here. It’s been absolutely unbelievable, amazing. The fans have been everything. But my focus is just on what I’m doing right now, my process (and everything) I normally do. And the results gotta come.”

(Top photo of Kyle Hendricks: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images)

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