Liam Hendriks throws perfect inning in first rehab appearance since cancer

“We’re off to the races,” Hendriks said.

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Liam Hendriks prepares for his first minor league rehab assignment for the Charlotte Knights. (White Sox)

Liam Hendriks before his first minor league rehab assignment for the Charlotte Knights. (White Sox)

CINCINNATI — Having “kicked cancer’s ass,” as his black and white pregame T-shirt proclaimed, reliever Liam Hendriks kicked off his minor-league rehab assignment Friday in Gwinnett, Georgia — the next step in returning to the White Sox after his victorious battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Dealing with mud in his cleats on a rainy night and some emotions brought out by a tribute from the Gwinnett Stripers, Hendriks tossed a perfect inning for Triple-A Charlotte, getting a pop-up, a called third strike and a ground out.

Hendriks needed only nine pitches to get through the inning. He said he’ll pitch again Sunday.

“We’re off to the races,” he said.

Sox manager Pedro Grifol said Hendriks likely will need four or five outings before joining the team. He dashed to his office in the visitors’ clubhouse hoping to see Hendriks pitch after the Sox’ 5-4 win over the Reds.

“We’ll be waiting here with open arms when he’s ready to go,” Grifol said.

Hendriks’ velocity was in the low 90s, but he was encouraged that he got a swing and a miss on a fastball and weak contact on a slider.

“Just going through the normal routine was something I missed,” he said.

He shared that his wife, Kristi, told him his return is about more than missing six weeks of the season — it’s about what it means to others to see him come back quickly from cancer.

“It’s a lot bigger than just me,” he said.

Moncada back in action, too

Yoan Moncada, on the injured list with a sore back since April 14, also started a rehab assignment with Charlotte. He was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts as the designated hitter Friday. The plan is for him to play five innings at third base Saturday and perhaps play a full game Sunday before a day off Monday.

After that, the Sox will “play it by ear and see where we’re at,” Grifol said.

Jake Burger, who has filled in at third in Moncada’s absence, landed on the IL on Thursday with a strained left oblique.

Papa Joe returns

Right-hander Joe Kelly came off the paternity list and pitched 1⅓ innings against the Reds. In relief of Lance Lynn, he struck out Jonathan India with the tying run on in the seventh, then struck out two in a perfect eighth.

Kelly was summoned after catcher Yasmani Grandal dropped a pop-up with two outs in the seventh on Lynn’s 103rd pitch. Grandal experienced “a little sharp pain in one of those ribs that goes away” and was replaced by Seby Zavala in the ninth.

Robert Jr. heating up?

Luis Robert Jr.’s home run in the sixth was his second in three games after he snapped an 18-game homerless streak against the Twins on Wednesday. Robert, who singled twice and scored two runs, was hitting .121/.227/.212 in his last 19 games before going 3-for-4 on Friday.

Elvis left the building

Elvis Andrus’ three-run homer against Hunter Greene was his first long ball of the season. He also made a diving stop to his right for an out in the seventh.

“Collectively, as a team, everybody has started to relax, loosen it up,” Andrus said. “Very happy that April is gone and we turn the page. I love it that way. Everybody has a brand new mindset coming to the ballpark.”

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