Despite hiccups, White Sox closer Liam Hendriks wants the ball no matter what
Signed this offseason to a three-year, $54 million contract, Hendriks has blown two of his first six save chances.
White Sox closer Liam Hendriks is as straightforward when discussing his job as he is while carrying it out.
He comes right at hitters with a high-90s fastball, daring the game’s best to prove him wrong. When hiccups happen, as they have twice already through his first nine appearances, they stick with the candid Australian.
“The one pitch that got away from me [that] didn’t come back — that’s the one that keeps me up at night,” Hendriks said. “It’s just that little one where you’re cruising along, and all of a sudden you lose focus for that split second, and it comes back to bite you.”
Signed this offseason to a three-year, $54 million contract, Hendriks has blown two of his first six save chances since joining his fifth big-league club. Both came at Guaranteed Rate Field on game-tying solo homers: April 11 to the Royals’ Carlos Santana and Saturday to the Rangers’ Willie Calhoun.
With four homers allowed in only 9⅓ innings, Hendriks is nearly halfway to his combined total of nine from the previous three seasons. Those came across 134⅓ innings while Hendriks, 32, was reinventing himself after a journeyman period that included a 3-15 record as a failed starter from 2011 to 2014.
In fairness, Hendriks was making back-to-back outings for manager Tony La Russa over the weekend. That included a 32-pitch, five-strikeout save Friday night in the series opener against the Rangers.
He wasn’t about to beg off duty in a chilly rain the next night, when Calhoun tomahawked a 97.5 mph heater at eye level. Nor is Hendriks the type to make excuses.
“I get [ticked] off when I give up a run,” Hendriks said. “That’s what I need to be. On the mound, you need to be that little bit selfish. You need to make sure that you pitch every single pitch like it’s a two-strike pitch, and you go out there and execute that pitch.”
La Russa has quickly grown fond of a throwback closer who wants the ball, no matter what. On April 18 in Boston, when the Sox swept a doubleheader, Hendriks finished both games.
He earned the save in the opener, then came back with another clean inning in the nightcap. The 24 pitches he threw that day didn’t begin to describe the impact of that statement.
“His heart and his guts [are] as big as his talent,” La Russa said. “Most closers, they have trouble if it’s a multi-run lead. He just loves to compete. Comes in there: ‘Boom, boom, boom.’
‘‘That’s a really good combination —for us and him.”
Hendriks, who had 39 saves with a 1.79 ERA over his last two seasons in Oakland, is a cerebral sort who will drop words such as “plethora” into casual conversation. He’s also willing to embrace the leadership role that goes with the ups and downs he has experienced in his career.
That includes being ready to pitch every day, mentally and physically.
“I came in with this crew and told them, ‘If I’m down, you need to tell me. I’m not going to make that decision myself,’ ’’ Hendriks said.
“As soon as I start thinking I’m down, I get into a bad place mentally. So I come to the field every day ready to pitch. I just sit out there and wait for the phone to ring.”
And once he does reach the mound, Hendriks expects to finish the job.
“I just want the ball, and I’m going to take the ball until you tell me to give the ball back to you,” he said. ”And even then I’m going to be mad.”