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New White Sox closer Liam Hendriks taking nothing for granted

“That’s the attitude you want,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said.

Liam Hendriks throws off a mound during the White Sox’ first day of spring training Wednesday.
Liam Hendriks throws off a mound during the White Sox’ first day of spring training Wednesday.
Chicago White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — For $54 million, Liam Hendriks is the White Sox’ closer.

End of story.

But there was Hendriks on the second day of his first spring training with the Sox on Thursday, saying he had to earn the job.

Funny story.

“Until anything happens, I’m just a reliever on this team, so I need to make sure that I earn that spot,” Hendriks said. “There’s never going to be a guarantee of me doing anything, whether it be the ninth [inning] or anything like that. My guarantee is me going out there and pitching and putting my best foot forward and hopefully winning that role.”

Hendriks’ winning-is-everything, take-nothing-for-granted attitude and being a respected teammate and a part of his community — he and wife Kristi already supported Bridgeport restaurants by buying lunch for local firemen — are part of his intangibles package that appealed to the Sox. They also preferred a strikeout guy closing games over Alex Colome, who served them well pitching to more contact for two seasons.

“That’s the attitude you want,” manager Tony La Russa said. “[Former Cardinals star] Albert [Pujols] for 11 years would always say he has to make the club, and the way he worked gave you that impression, and that’s what Liam means.

“The most important thing about Liam is he wants to be on a winning ballclub, wants to see how far we can go. He’s willing to do whatever it takes.”

Hendriks was the best available free-agent pitcher. Aggressive, tough and wanting the ball for multiple innings, if necessary, he was also the best reliever in baseball over the last two seasons with a 1.79 ERA, 0.897 WHIP, 161 strikeouts and 24 walks in 110⅓ innings.

“Look, I want the ball in whatever situation,” he said.

Pitching in mostly game-saving situations, Hendriks will earn $39 million in the first three years of his deal, and the rest will come either as a fourth-year team option or as a deferred buyout over 10 years if he declines. He doesn’t strike you as one who will coast now that he has made bank.

“If I ever become satisfied, it means I’m going backward,” he said. “So I constantly think I can do better; I constantly think there are certain areas to work on. Regardless of numbers or anything like that, there’s always something you can get better at and that can improve your season and improve you as a team, whether it be on the field, off the field, as a teammate, as a human being. There’s always something to move forward, push forward to.”

Hendriks did learn something already in camp — that he tipped a pitch that his new catcher, Yasmani Grandal, hit for a home run against him in the wild-card series in October.

“So that’s fun,” Hendriks said. “It’s pretty much the most productive home run I’ve given up I think, so there’s that.”

He also finds it fun just looking at his new teammates. The Sox are a physically imposing lot — opponents have said they resemble a football team on the field — and Hendriks took notice right away.

“My wife and I came in to test [for the coronavirus] after we first got to Arizona, and she mentioned to me, ‘Why are they all so big?’ ” Hendriks said. “So everyone is a lot taller than me [6 foot, 230 pounds], which is very disconcerting. They are like the Monstars from the movie ‘Space Jam.’ ”

Hendriks likes the mix of youth and veteran leadership in the Sox’ clubhouse.

He’ll fit right in.

“You have guys on the team like Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn who won before,” Hendriks said. “You can throw in Tony La Russa, who has won before. Adam Eaton. These are guys who have won championships in the big leagues who bring that winning mentality to it. They bring that kind of vibe of being able to do it.”