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Liam Hendriks’ first season with White Sox ‘not the year I envisioned for myself’

The AL saves leader calls 2021 a mixed bag.

“There have been stretches where I’ve done what I was brought here to do and stretches where I have underperformed,” White Sox reliever Liam Hendriks said.
“There have been stretches where I’ve done what I was brought here to do and stretches where I have underperformed,” White Sox reliever Liam Hendriks said.
Charlie Riedel/AP

OAKLAND, Calif. — Liam Hendriks collected his American League leading 33rd save in the White Sox’ 6-3 win over his former team, and he’s following up the Reliever of the Year season he had with the Athletics in 2020 with another good one.

He characterized his first five months with the White Sox as good and bad.

“There have been stretches where I’ve done what I was brought here to do and stretches where I have underperformed,” Hendriks said. “That’s the case with any reliever. You’re going to go through those little struggles, but the biggest thing is how quickly you get out of those.”

At times, Hendriks has made fixes quickly. Other times, it took too long to suit him. There was a stretch, including an overlap of the Field of Dreams game, in which he was tipping pitches.

“I’m doing all right in save totals and strikeout totals but not well in the blown-saves department,” he said.

In his first game back at Oakland, Hendriks lowered his ERA to 2.95 Tuesday with a perfect ninth inning. That ERA is one of the numbers he’s not very fond of.

“You can dive into the numbers and tweak at them any way you want to, but it’s been a roller-coaster year for me, and it’s not the year I envisioned for myself,” Hendriks said. “But now we have a month to rectify the wrongs I’ve had through the course of the year.”

It’s not how you start but how you finish, he says.

“At the end of the day, you get to the postseason, and that’s where you can make or break a season,” Hendriks said. “You can have an All-Star-caliber season and struggle in the playoffs, and that’s all anyone is going to remember.”

Among major-league relievers through Monday, Hendriks ranked first in strikeouts (95, against only seven walks), WHIP (0.78) and inherited runners scored (10.0). His career-high (in 39 opportunities) rank second, and he’s fifth in strikeouts per nine innings at 14.25. When throwing at least 1⅓ innings, he’s 9-for-9 in save opportunities.

For what it’s worth, with eight wins, he’s looking to become the first Sox reliever with nine or more since Barry Jones had 11 in 1990.

He is also on pace to get 112 strikeouts, which would be the third-highest season total by a Sox reliever.

With Craig Kimbrel coming from the Cubs at the trade deadline, Hendriks still has been the primary ninth-inning man for manager Tony La Russa. Kimbrel recorded two outs in the eighth inning after Ryan Burr opened the inning and allowed a couple of hits.

“[Kimbrel has] been a little off in his mechanics, and it happens at some point in the year,” Hendriks said. “Happens to me. For him, being traded over, you almost put too much pressure on yourself in that situation. We have no doubt that he’ll do exactly what is expected. The good thing is, there are no egos about who gets the eighth or ninth. Nobody cares as long as there is a ‘W’ on the board at the end.”

Tuesday’s W for the pitcher went to rookie Jimmy Lambert, who pitched five innings of one-run ball.

“Very impressive game,” manager Tony La Russa said.

Finished by Hendriks.

“I can remember when [Hendriks] first made an appearance [with] Minnesota, and I thought, ‘Hey, this guy’s got talent,’ ’’ La Russa said Tuesday. “You see a competitor. He competes. With the A’s, he really became the go-to guy.

“[Former pitching coach] Dave Duncan used to talk a lot about when [Dennis] Eckersley became such a great closer. It’s because he was used as a starter [as Hendriks was], and he had learned to pitch, not just throw. He had an array of pitches, and he knew what the eighth and ninth inning was.”

Hendriks has learned to quickly self-diagnose when things go wrong.

“It’s a feel thing,” he said. “Some days you’re not quite there, others you are locked in. You can’t think too much about individual mechanical issues. I’ll give myself a slap on the butt or a tap on the chin. Those are my mechanisms to get me locked in.”

“Liam has just really grown into it,” La Russa said. “Everything he’s done to this point, it’s all been part of making him outstanding.”