GLENDALE, Ariz. — New White Sox closer Liam Hendriks was throwing his first live batting practice of the spring.
There was salty language after pitches that missed spots. It was loud. A gaggle of geese off in the distance might have scurried, according to a Camelback Ranch back-field source.
Hendriks kicked a clump of Roger Bossard’s nicely manicured dirt off the mound.
And it was February.
In live BP — Hendriks threw another Thursday and is slated to appear in his first game next week — there are no fielders, just a simulated at-bat against a hitter. But that didn’t stop Hendriks from sprinting toward the first-base dugout to catch a foul pop-up off the bat of Adam Engel.
This is how Hendriks, the affable Aussie, is wired.
“I have a different way of approaching things than a lot of people in the way I play,” Hendriks said.
Hendriks’ way will bring more “killer instinct” to a team that might have lacked it after being the first team to clinch a playoff berth last season. After doing so, the Sox fell out of first place in the American League Central and faded with a 3-12 record down the stretch.
“The killer instinct comes from never thinking about the next day,” said Hendriks, who appeared in all three games as the Athletics sent the Sox home in their wild-card series. “It can never be about, ‘OK, we don’t necessarily need to win today because we have the next couple to be able to pull out a win.’ You need to make sure every single game is that final game that you may play, that every single time you go out there, everything is on the line.”
This is an intensity that propelled Hendriks’ Relief Pitcher of the Year performance with the Athletics in 2020. It was part of what appealed to the Sox, who gave him a $54 million deal.
Manager Tony La Russa welcomes it. La Russa isn’t happy about Cactus League losses, which don’t mean much in the big scheme of things. Not when nobody who will make the Opening Day roster pitched.
“Opening Day, you have to be ready to compete as best you can, and you can’t get there and say you did the best you could if you waste days,” La Russa said. “How you ramp things up, your concentration, the intensity of how you go about the practice, whether drills or games, you can’t replace that experience. You can’t waste it.”
It’s difficult to gauge how much the Sox’ fade was affected by a perceived lack of intensity. Maybe they just didn’t play as well. For the Sox, with numerous young players who hadn’t experienced a postseason push before, it won’t hurt to have the experience in the back pocket.
“They clinched that playoff spot, and they thought they had made it,” Hendriks said. “There were some conversations about if and when that comes about, if we are able to clinch a playoff spot but haven’t necessarily clinched the division, that we will not rest until we clinch that division because that’s what real-ly matters. Making sure we clinch the division. . . . It’s not just, ‘OK, we made it, so now we are OK.’ ”
Satchel Paige famously said, “Don’t look over your shoulder, someone might be gaining on you.” Hendriks disagrees. He says always look over your shoulder
“You need something who is against you, pushing you, to be able to get the best out of you,” Hendriks said. “You have to make sure you are always looking over your shoulder, making sure that you need to put your best foot forward.
“Making sure that at no point do you feel complacent or comfortable in the position you are in. As soon as you start doing that, that’s when the proverbial foot comes off the gas.”
Pedal to the metal.