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More help for Cubs' rotation: Kyle Hendricks returns, John Lackey activated

ATLANTA -- The Chicago Cubs almost feel like they've traded for a second pitcher within a week, as they welcomed 2016 ERA leader Kyle Hendricks back to the clubhouse Tuesday after a minor league rehab stint due to tendinitis in his pitching hand.

Hendricks, 27, high-fived teammates in the locker room upon his return after throwing five perfect innings Monday night at Double-A Tennessee. He declared himself ready for his return after missing six weeks.

"Felt mechanically, right," Hendricks said. "My rhythm felt right. Executed many more pitches. I feel pretty confident."

A second rehab start did the trick for Hendricks, who wanted to return sooner but relented after the Cubs traded for lefty Jose Quintana during the All-Star break.

Quintana had a spectacular Cubs debut, shutting out the Baltimore Orioles over seven innings Sunday while striking out 12.

"I'm pumped to have him," Hendricks said. "He's so steady through the years. ... The rotation has been solid so far. Hopefully I can jump in and not have any hiccups."

Hendricks won't pitch until next week when the Cubs play the Chicago White Sox in a four-game, home-and-home series, but Quintana will miss facing his old team. He'll make his home debut on Sunday Night Baseball against the division rival St. Louis Cardinals and then pitch the following weekend against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

"If we get our pitching in order, we'll be OK," manager Joe Maddon said over the weekend.

So far, so good, as the Cubs have won all four games since the All-Star break with three of their top starters -- including Quintana -- having strong starts. They totaled 20 2/3 innings while giving up just two earned runs. That kind of production hasn't happened often this year. Hendricks' return is simply another boost.

"[Hendricks] was pleased with himself," Maddon said. "He's happy with the way he's throwing the ball. ... Now he knows where the ball is going. When he's like that, he's very effective."

The Cubs also activated right-hander John Lackey to start on Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves and are hoping he can be effective as well after he missed two weeks with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. His first half wasn't very good but now he has help. The addition of Quintana and the return of Hendricks make the Cubs that much more formidable as they attempt to chase down the Brewers in the National League Central.

"I've missed it around here, man," Hendricks said. "It's so fun to be back. To come out of the break [the way we're] playing, I think it's what we expected.

"You can feel the energy around here with all the guys."

The Cubs optioned right-hander Eddie Butler to Triple-A Iowa to make room for Lackey. Hendricks won't be activated until he pitches.

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