The Brewer bullpen has been great lately, but they're about to get even more help. Jim Henderson, currently on the DL with a hamstring injury, is making a rehab appearance for low-A Wisconsin tonight and if all goes well he expects to be activated off the DL on Sunday. Before tonight's game he told reporters he feels like he's 100%, but "now we just have to test it with the intensity of the game."
"I hurt the hamstring trying to be quick to the plate, so no matter what happens I'm going to work on a couple of quick moves to the plate, just pushing off aggressively and trying to test it that way," Henderson said. "As long as I can pass that hurdle, and it's a mental thing too. As long as you can mentally go towards the plate with some aggression, that's what I'm looking for tonight."
Henderson last pitched for the Brewers on May 24, and is eager to get back with the team.
"I wish there was a 7 or 10-day DL for these type of things," Henderson said. "I feel good now. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, it was my first time with a hamstring injury and I could barely walk the first couple of days after I hurt it. So I thought the 15-day DL was a good decision but now I'm itching to get back."
This was Henderson's first hamstring injury of his career, and he credited the training staff for knowing exactly how to plan his rehab.
"Everything that they've mapped out, as far as a rehab program, I've felt comfortable with each step of the way," Henderson said. "When they had me sprinting, a couple of days before that I probably wouldn't have been comfortable but the day they had it scheduled for me to sprint, that's the day I felt comfortable. They're experts up there. "
Through 20 appearances this season Henderson has a 0.92 ERA. He replaced John Axford in the closer role early in the season and recorded nine saves before going on the shelf.
"It's always nice to be pitching well and you don't want to mess up a good thing," Henderson said. "It was a little tough, but hopefully I can just get right back at it."
Before he can get back, though, he needs to shake off the rust from a couple of weeks of inactivity.
"The arm is feeling extra good with all this time off. I'm a little worried that my control might not be there, but I'm just trying to get the ball over the plate tonight," Henderson said.
Once Henderson rejoins the Brewers, his role is yet to be determined. Francisco Rodriguez has been serving as the closer in the team's rare recent save opportunities, and John Axford also entered Friday riding a 12-game scoreless streak. In the short term, though, Henderson just wants to help the team win.
"It's tough to see what we're going through right now," Henderson said. "I just want to get back out there and help the team however I can when the opportunity arises now."
This tough stretch for the team has overshadowed a dominant performance by the bullpen lately. Brewer relievers have a 2.98 ERA as a unit, but Henderson said it's tough to enjoy that success when the team isn't winning.
"We're just trying to play together as a team," Henderson said. "When you look up and down the lineup, our first five hitters and you look at the bullpen and some of the starters are having great years individually, we just need to start doing it as a team. It's hard to enjoy the individual accomplishments when you're not winning, so you just keep it to yourself and try to help each other along the way right now."
For now, though, Henderson is back with Wisconsin (where he also pitched in 2009) hanging out with the young minor leaguers. He said his primary message to his rehab teammates will be perseverance.
"Just keep on working at it. I always kept just looking forward," Henderson said. "You can look at where you're at, wherever you are in the minor league system and you can get frustrated at times. But as long as you keep on looking ahead and looking forward the big dream is always attainable."
This is Henderson's first rehab assignment as a major leaguer, but not his first rehab assignment. He told a story about a time when he was in AAA with the Cubs and on rehab with a rookie league team when he and former Cubs reliever Scott Eyre (he thinks it was Eyre, anyway) shared a bucket of fried chicken while watching the rookies play.
"Those guys are starving on the rookie salaries and we're just eating chicken in front of them," Henderson said. "So it was probably rubbing it in. But he was a good dude, he fed everybody after that."
I didn't ask Henderson if he was feeding the A-ballers following his appearance tonight.