NEW YORK — The A's never have been afraid to do things differently.
Wednesday night, they'll become the first team ever to start an “opener” in a playoff game, as right-handed reliever Liam Hendriks will get the ball in the American League Wild Card Game against the Yankees.
“Liam's done a pretty good job with the role,” A's manager Bob Melvin said Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. “It makes sense to start him. ... How it's going to go after Liam, we're still kind of deciding.”
Said Hendriks: “I was kind of preparing to be (the opener) but also preparing not to be it. I wasn't setting myself up. I wasn't trying to do anything any different. I did the same thing I would normally do if I was relieving yesterday. I walked around the city, went to the Met. It's the same as every other game to me. I'm relieving in the first inning instead of the sixth, seventh or eighth.”
It's been an incredible turn of events for Hendriks, who earlier this season underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his hip and later was designated for assignment. Now he will be on the mound for the biggest game of the year.
“I'm just happy to be a part of it,” Hendriks said. “I'm just happy to be on the team, to be honest. Obviously it was a trying year. I had to adapt and overcome some things this year. I think it's made me better. It's definitely humbled me and brought me back down to earth. It's definitely brought out that little animosity about everything, just trying to go out there and prove that I can do this.”
Added Melvin: “I think it was a big wake-up call for him because he hadn't been in that position for quite a while. He used his time wisely in Triple-A and started on a long-tossing program, which brought his velocity back. ... The results speak for themselves.”
Hendriks likely will only pitch one or two innings before being replaced by a long line of relief pitchers. The 29-year-old Australian gained experience in this type of opener role late in the regular season, starting eight times last month.
Hendriks has pitched 11 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and recorded a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings during September. For the season, he went 0-1 with a 4.13 ERA.
The Yankees will counter with ace Luis Severino.
First pitch is set for Wednesday at 5:08 p.m. PT at Yankee Stadium.