PITTSBURGH — Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn and Adam Eaton have World Series rings. White Sox manager Tony La Russa has three.
Closer Liam Hendriks and everyone else on the Sox’ roster?
That will have to change, Hendriks said.
“My nearest taste of it was getting into the ALCS in 2015 with the Athletics, the DS [division series] last year and the wild card in 2018,” Hendriks said. “I want to make sure I get that ring and put it on a wall. That’s what everyone strives for.”
Signed by the Sox to a four-year, $54 million contract in the offseason as a measure to make that happen, Hendriks is set financially. He doesn’t want to be known as someone with deep pockets, though. He wants to be known as someone who wants to pocket a championship ring.
“The guys who go into a season looking to get paid, get a contract, they tend not to be the guys everyone respects in the clubhouse,” Hendriks said. “The guys who want to get a trophy are the guys everyone gravitates toward. That’s been my goal the last how many years. Numbers don’t matter. It’s making sure you’re getting that last out of the season and being on top.”
The American League Reliever of the Month for May, Hendriks has numbers that matter to the Sox, though. He has an AL-best 18 saves in 21 save opportunities with a 2.08 ERA, although he hasn’t had a game to close since a 3-0 victory Wednesday against the Rays. The Sox are coming off a four-game sweep in Houston that presented no save chances for Hendriks, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two strikeouts in an 8-2 loss Sunday just to get in some work.
Opening a stretch of 18 games to the All-Star break against teams below .500 and the Mariners (.514), the AL Central-leading Sox take on the Pirates for two games in Pittsburgh.
Early on in spring training, Hendriks made it clear he wants to pitch a lot. And he made his personality known, needling team leader Tim Anderson (and getting it back from the shortstop) and screaming profanities on the mound and in live batting practices, bullpen warmups and games. It’s hard on the ears, but it’s Hendriks’ way of getting himself engaged in the heat of competition.
Fellow reliever Codi Heuer said he likes how Hendriks brings energy every day.
“He’s electric,” Heuer said. “That’s who he is; that’s how he works. Everyone has their own alter ego out on the mound. You have to. He might be crazy, but he’s our crazy guy. I love watching him close out a game and lose his mind. The emotion, it’s contagious. You see guys like Evan Marshall go out there and pitch with emotion, too, and I try to go out and do the same.”
Hendriks is aware he can grate on teammates. That’s one reason he takes his Lego hobby into the home clubhouse and puts on earbuds, knowing his teammates handle him better in limited doses. He waits to join the others in the bullpen until later in the game, too.
Assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler, who is stationed in the bullpen during games, says Hendriks is “a breath of fresh air.”
“He’s a huge asset, that’s obvious, because of his ability,” Hasler said. “But he keeps things light. When it comes time to prepare, he watches a ton of video. Come the seventh, eighth inning, he gets more serious. He knows how to do it, when to do it.”
“I hope I give off that aura,” Hendriks said. “Winning is the most important thing to me and has been for many years. That’s why the White Sox were a great fit, regardless of the contract. This is a chance to win not only this year but the next four.”
SOX AT PIRATES
Tuesday: Lucas Giolito (5-5, 3.86) vs. Tyler Anderson (3-7, 4.89), 6:05 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Wednesday: Dylan Cease (5-3, 3.99) vs. Chase De Jong (0-1, 4.26), 11:35 a.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM