White Sox’ Liam Hendriks ‘grinding’ through cancer treatment

“It’s not going to be too far of a process for him to come back,” teammate Joe Kelly said.

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The White Sox have started spring training without relief pitcher Liam Hendriks, who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The White Sox have started spring training without relief pitcher Liam Hendriks, who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

GLENDALE, Ariz. — White Sox reliever Reynaldo Lopez was at church last month when he heard the news about Liam Hendriks. It felt like the right place to be for Lopez, who said a prayer for his bullpen mate after learning he’d been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“It’s a scary thing,” Lopez said.

The Sox opened spring training Wednesday, when pitchers and catchers reported. Absent on the field are Hendriks’ big presence, Australian accent and signature bellows of disgust with himself after a bad pitch. Teammates care about his well-being first and will worry later about the void at the back end of the pen, reliever Kendall Graveman said.

The same goes for players around the majors. Graveman has received requests from a number of people, including the Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo, for Hendriks’ phone number. While he was a Red Sox prospect in 2008, Rizzo, the former Cubs star, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent six months of chemotherapy.

“I knew he was going to have a lot of people kind of saying, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about you — if you need anything from us, from my family to yours, let us know,’ ” Graveman said. “And seeing him here and in good spirits . . . he’s going to continue to be Liam and put his work in. Our prayer from our family is that he has a speedy recovery and that he’s cancer-free, first and foremost.”

Teammates are hopeful Hendriks pitches at some point this season.

“I talk to Liam a lot,” reliever Joe Kelly said. “We were playing catch multiple times [in the offseason], and when he came out and told the world what happened, he went to chemo, and three days later, we played catch again. He’s been grinding. He’s one of those guys that can do that kind of thing. He can switch [off] what troubles he has off the field when he gets on the field, and that’s very hard to do.”

Knowing Hendriks — who claims to have previously pitched with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee — Kelly doesn’t think it’ll be long after treatment before the 33-year-old two-time American League reliever of the year is pitching again.

“Since he’s been throwing, it’s not going to be too far of a process for him to come back,” Kelly said.

Starter Dylan Cease said he was shocked and devastated when he heard about Hendriks’ illness on Jan. 8.

“But I’ve been surprised seeing him around the clubhouse,” Cease said Thursday. “He’s in a good mood. So I definitely feel better about it now.”

In Hendriks’ absence, first-year Sox manager Pedro Grifol figures to mix and match relievers in the ninth. Graveman, Lopez, lefty Aaron Bummer and Kelly — who feels healthy for the first time in three spring camps — are possibilities.

“Regardless of whether Liam was available now or not, we’re going to need more than one,” Grifol said. “Once we get closer and we start setting up our game plan for the day, we’re just going to leverage guys. And if a closer emerges and that’s what we do, then that’s what we do. But I’m a big leverage guy. That’s my mindset right now.”

In the meantime, a seat in the bullpen will be kept open for Hendriks. If it’s next to Kelly, it’ll feel like nothing has changed.

“My humor is kind of dark — I like mean comedy,” Kelly said. “So when Liam comes back, it’s easy to talk crap a little bit, and he’s a guy who can take it and it picks him up a little bit. The way we can go about it is kind of making fun of it. It’s a serious thing, and it’s a horrible thing, but for Liam and our relationship . . . the minutes we have together in the locker room where I can do something like that [will help] get his mind off of that kind of thing.

“He seems great. He has his days where he’ll probably tell you he’s tired or that he doesn’t feel good, but he’s the same Liam to me.”

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