Liam Hendriks, bullpen dominant in White Sox victory over Athletics

Craig Kimbrel, Hendriks each strike out the side; Michael Kopech fans three in two dominant innings.

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Liam Hendriks gestures after getting the final out against the Athletics on Monday.

Liam Hendriks gestures after getting the final out against the Athletics on Monday.

David Banks/Getty Images

That’s more like it.

While the lockdown eighth and ninth inning bullpen the White Sox appeared to have after acquiring Craig Kimbrel before the trade deadline hasn’t fully materialized, it gave a glimpse of what it’s supposed to look like in the White Sox’ 5-2 victory over the Athletics on Monday night.

Downright nasty.

Craig Kimbrel fanned three but gave up a double and hit a batter in a scoreless eighth inning before Hendriks struck out the side in the ninth as the Sox won a matchup of playoff-bound teams who last met in the postseason a year ago. Michael Kopech got the ball to the All-Star relievers with two dominant innings in relief of starter Dallas Keuchel.

Hendriks, who had allowed three homers in his last two ninth-inning appearances, leads the American League with six blown saves, three coming in his last seven save opportunities. But he made sure he didn’t blow this one, blowing away his former team for his 27th save.

“Against your former team it gives you that extra edge,” said Hendriks, who featured a healthy dose of wipeout sliders. He threw 13 of 18 pitches for strikes.

“The last two outings, I had to get that bad taste out of my mouth,” Hendriks said. “I realized I had been tipping my heater a little bit against the Yankees.”

With 11 homers allowed by Hendriks — three in his previous two games — manager Tony La Russa, pitching coach Ethan Katz and assistant coach Curt Hasler, who toils in the bullpen, have kicked around the idea of using Kimbrel in the ninth instead of the eighth.

“That’s been talked about,” Hasler said Monday. “And Tony, Ethan and I talked to him and that’s an ongoing thing, obviously. We’re still where we’re at.”

“Kimbrel is going to give Liam a break once in a while and it’s a good thing. We’re not going to have to kill either one of them [with overusage]. They’re both available to close games. The roles haven’t changed, they’re where they were a week ago when they got here.”

Keuchel pitched five innings of two-run ball, minimizing the damage in a rocky second inning featuring a homer by Matt Chapman, a hit batter and two walks. Keuchel threw just 78 pitches but La Russa, perhaps mindful of Keuchel’s 11.77 ERA in the sixth inning this season, went to Kopech to pitch the sixth and seventh. Featuring 100-mph velocity, Kopech struck out three, allowing no hits.

“We’ve got some weapons out there,” La Russa said.

Luis Robert had three hits, including a homer in the eighth inning giving the Sox a three-run lead. He also had a steal and scored three runs.

“So fun to watch him take really good at-bats,” La Russa said.

Catcher Seby Zavala singled twice, scored a run and knocked in two with a single and safety squeeze that plated Robert after Robert singled, stole second (ruled safe after a Sox challenge) and moved to third on Brian Goodwin’s single.

Eloy Jimenez’s single against Frankie Montas in the fifth, a liner off third baseman Matt Chapman’s glove, broke a 2-all tie.

Hendriks’ velocity remains in the high upper 90s, and Hasler objects to the notion his four-seamer has been straight and thus less challenging to barrel up.

“It looks straight to the naked eye but it’s not,” Hasler said. “It has some real good induced vertical [movement], which is why he gets so many swings and misses. It has life. It has a lot of life. That’s what makes him special. It would be dangerous to panic off of one or two bad outings, to say, ‘Oh no, something’s wrong.’ ’’

A closer look at his recent outings simply revealed Hendriks missing his spots and not controlling counts, Hasler said.

“It’s a different story when he controls it, and he made some bad pitches to good hitters and they made him pay.

“Liam is fine. He’s the same guy.”

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