DENVER – Liam Hendriks was one of the first people Craig Kimbrel ran into after arriving in Denver Sunday night for All-Star week. Kimbrel checked in, and the Chicago closers caught up.
“It’s been cool to see his success,” Kimbrel said. “And for him to come to Chicago and for us to both be representing the city is pretty cool.”
The pair of 2021 All-Stars first met in the mid-2010s through Pro Athletes Outreach, which puts on conferences every year. They’ve both been through mid-career trades and eventually made their way to Chicago through free agency, one dominant closer on each side of the city.
“It’s a unique talent what he’s got,” Hendriks said. “It’s a unique talent what he’s been able to prove this year. And I’m just happy that we’ve got a couple Chicago reps here, being at the back end of the bullpen, doing what we need to do.”
Kimbrel came to Chicago first. He signed with the Cubs in 2019 after his free agency stretched into June. With just half of a normal season with the Cubs, followed by a year of pandemic restrictions, Kimbrel didn’t have Chicago recommendations to offer Hendriks when he signed with the White Sox this January.
“I’m still trying to figure out Chicago myself,” Kimbrel said with a laugh.
He might not have much longer to explore the city either. After a rocky start to his Cubs tenure – posting a 6.53 ERA in 2019 and losing the closer role in 2020 – Kimbrel has earned his eighth all-star nod. The likely future Hall of Famer hasn’t allowed an earned run since mid-May. For a Cubs team poised to sell at the July 30 trade deadline, Kimbrel could bring in a hefty return.
“I’ve been traded before,” Kimbrel said. “I’ve been traded on Opening Day. So, if something does happen and I am having to move in the middle of the year, I’ve done it before.”
When asked about sharing an All-Star stage with Kimbrel, Hendrik’s mind bypassed trade speculation and went straight to his North Side counterpart’s comeback this year.
“I could not be happier for him,” Hendriks said. “Obviously the last couple years have been tough for him – I’m not even talking on the field, just off the field stuff has been very hard on him. And him being able to do what he’s been able to do and prove every hater wrong, prove everybody that thinks he’s done wrong, is something special.”
As for on-the-field struggles, Hendriks has a frame of reference. He began his MLB career as a starter, was relegated to the bullpen, and bounced around a few different teams before emerging as an All-Star closer for the A’s in 2019.
“It’s character building,” Hendriks said. “You need to go through those struggles to realize how good you have it. And you need to go through those trials and tribulations to really get to a point where you feel like you can reach your apex.”
On Tuesday, both Chicago closers pitched in the ninth inning of the All-Star Game, Hendriks for the full inning and Kimbrel for two outs. Hendriks earned the save in the American League’s 5-2 win.