White Sox thrilled at Liam Hendriks’ health news, ready for comeback efforts to proceed

“This is a hell of a lot bigger than baseball, right?” manager Pedro Grifol said.

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White Sox closer Liam Hendriks officially is on the comeback trail.

Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Relief. Thankfulness. Awe. Excitement.

All of it kept flowing from White Sox closer Liam Hendriks’ teammates a day after he made the news official that he’s free of cancer, the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he battled since at least the start of the year now in remission.

‘‘He said it was going well in the spring, so we thought there was a pretty good chance that something positive like this could happen,’’ right-hander Dylan Cease said. ‘‘But it’s such an obviously devastating disease, and for him to come back this quickly and beat it like that is really incredible. I’m so excited for him.’’

Right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who has all three of the Sox’ saves in Hendriks’ absence, beamed when he saw Hendriks’ face in a social-media post announcing the good news.

‘‘He looked so happy, and that made me happy, too,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘It’s so good to see him happy like that and past the cancer.’’

And as manager Pedro Grifol put it, ‘‘This is a hell of a lot bigger than baseball, right?’’

No doubt, but there’s a baseball component, too, and a mighty big one. While the struggling Sox got a weekend series underway against the fast-starting Rays, Hendriks was continuing to gear up in Arizona for what Grifol called ‘‘the start of his spring training.’’ For a team that entered play Friday with a 6.68 bullpen ERA, the veteran ninth-inning character with the dominant right arm and even stronger personality and presence can’t get back on the big-league mound soon enough.

Hendriks, 34, worked out at the Sox’ complex during spring training, getting his arm partly up to speed with long toss and in bullpen sessions and completely impressing those around him despite his strength being a bit down. Chemotherapy ended only a couple of weeks ago.

‘‘I think most people would have just taken the time off and gone and been reclusive,’’ Cease said, ‘‘but he just kept at it like nothing was wrong, and I don’t know how he did it, man.’’

At Camelback Ranch, pitching coach Ethan Katz worried that Hendriks might be pushing it more than he should.

‘‘But now that he actually did all those things,’’ Katz said, ‘‘it was actually a blessing in disguise because he did so much that now it kind of speeds up everything else. He’s not starting from ground zero.’’

Hendriks remains on the 15-day injured list, suggesting a return in May is possible.

Duel in the dome

The opposite directions in which their teams have been heading aside, Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan and Cease are set to duel Saturday at Tropicana Field — and matchups don’t get much better.

McClanahan, who started the All-Star Game for the American League last season and went on to finish sixth in Cy Young voting, is blazing at 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA and 27 strikeouts. Cease, an All-Star snub who became the Cy Young runner-up, is 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 29 strikeouts.

‘‘You never want to be the guy who doesn’t perform, you know?’’ Cease said. ‘‘I know there’s a good chance I’m going to have to keep the runs low. I know I’ve got to bring it for us to win.’’

What’s up, doc?

Time on the shelf with a sore lower back continues for third baseman Yoan Moncada. A rehab assignment is in the offing, though Grifol wouldn’t say when or for how long.

‘‘It’s going a little slower than we anticipated,’’ Grifol said, stating the obvious.

Reliever Matt Foster had Tommy John surgery Wednesday and will miss the rest of the 2023 season.

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