A’s manager Bob Melvin checked on his star closer Liam Hendriks multiple times throughout Thursday, building up to the team’s elimination game against the Chicago White Sox in Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series.
Hendriks, who has become one of the best finishers in the game, struggled in Wednesday's Game 2, throwing 49 pitches in 1 2/3 innings. With less than 24 hours for Hendriks to recover, Melvin had to make sure that he was doing what was best for both the team and one of his aces in an incredibly important game.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Melvin said following the A’s 6-4 victory. “I talked to him before the game and he felt okay, but I don’t ever want anyone to be put in a position to get hurt.”
Hendriks warmed up before the game and then gave Melvin a thumbs up -- although, with a caveat.
“Even if I feel like crap, I’m going to say I want the ball,” Hendriks said. “I want the ball, it doesn’t matter, I want the ball."
“But I also need to take a little bit of a step back and humble myself and realize that there are times when, yes, I want the ball, but I might not be the best option,” Hendriks added.
With Hendriks available to finish off the game, Melvin used six other pitchers in relief of starter Mike Fiers. There might have been another arm or two hiding in the pen in an all-hands-on-deck elimination game, but it was Hendriks’ game to lose.
It wasn’t a clear ninth inning for Oakland’s closer, but he had electric stuff. After a leadoff single by James McCann, Hendriks harnessed the adrenaline coursing through his veins and was lights out.
Hendriks blew high-90’s heat past White Sox hitters, even hitting 100 mph on the gun on a pitch or two. He also mixed in the slider that was off the day before, striking out Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and Nomar Mazara to send the A’s onto the Division Series.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, but I was happy I was able to kind of redeem myself after yesterday after not putting my best foot forward,” Hendriks said.
While Hendriks’ rough outing on Wednesday came in an A’s win, performances like his in Game 3 can have a positive impact on a pitcher’s psyche. Getting him back on the hill and finding immediate success could pay huge dividends in Oakland’s next series against the Houston Astros.