Liam Hendriks can’t come back soon enough for Sox

Hendriks is just what this disappointing, not very likable team badly needs — a likable, effusive, heart-and-soul guy, an emotional bellwether with a feel-good story who also happens to be one of the best closers in the game.

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White Sox closer Liam Hendriks had 37 saves last season. He led the American League with 38 in 2021.

Michael Dwyer, AP Photos

The White Sox need Liam Hendriks back more than they know.

The closer, on the comeback trail after beating cancer, is officially “day-to-day” after throwing a short session of live batting practice at Guaranteed Rate Field before the game Friday night against the Royals.

He could return next week. It could be the week after. But whenever it is, it can’t come soon enough for a team that has spent most of the season wallowing in its own misery and trudging its way out of a horrid 7-21 start.

Hendriks is just what this disappointing, not very likable team badly needs — a likable, effusive, heart-and-soul guy, an emotional bellwether with a feel-good story who also happens to be one of the best closers in the game.

This talented team needs a mojo change in the worst way. Garrett Crochet returned from Tommy John surgery Thursday. Eloy Jimenez could be back next week after an appendectomy. Hendriks’ return not only would make the Sox as whole as they’ve been this year, but give them the emotional boost they need to reset, re-energize and salvage the season.

“It’s Liam Hendriks,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “[Relief] pitcher of the year. He’s our closer. Of course we want him back as soon as possible. Of course he uplifts our club. And he not only uplifts our club, [but] the tempo of our club — the bullpen, the rhythm, everything about it. But we’re not going to jump to make any decisions.”

Grifol, a rookie skipper, could use some room to breathe a little easier. He answered three questions about Hendriks on Friday but had no patience for a fourth.

“I’m really not going to get into this any further,” he said. “I’m getting asked the same question over and over again. There’s a process to this. We’re going to sit together as a group and take the next step together.”

Grifol insists he is not being consumed by the negativity that comes with a 17-29 record, but this team often seems like it spends too much downtime on Twitter.

Even Tim Anderson, along with Hendriks the emotional leader of the team, is off his game. A two-time All-Star and well-established star player, Anderson should have no problem addressing a costly error in the Sox’ 3-1 loss Thursday to the Guardians. It hardly defines him. But he bristled when asked about it Friday.

“It already passed,” said Anderson, who was not available to the media after the game Thursday night. “You don’t want to start talking about it. It already passed. It was yesterday.”

But it typified the rut the Sox are in — every little mistake is costly.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Anderson said. “You guys . . . need to handle it right, too. Don’t come in and . . . approach it the wrong way. You already know what happened.”

To his credit, Anderson owned up to the error — he whiffed on a short-hopper as he tried to charge it for a throw to the plate.

“I just missed it,” he said. “The game is as simple as that. You saw it. It was just one of those plays.”

Is it any easier to deal with it as an established player?

“Yeah,” Anderson said. “Because you gotta play every day. And it’s tough because you have to talk about it the next day because guys like you have to come in and ask the question and remind us of what goes on. You know what I mean?”

Anderson said the key to a 2023 Sox resurgence is to “keep going and stay away from the negativity.” In reality, his job as a veteran and leader is to rise above the negativity and set an example for his teammates. Maybe Hendriks can show him the way.

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