Sox Reporter

Hendriks brings to Sox what he threw at them in playoffs

Sox Reporter

The screaming, the yelling, the fist-pumping, the high-octane attitude the White Sox saw Liam Hendriks unleash in the final game of their 2020 season, he's brought it to the South Side.

Well, more accurately, he's brought it to Camelback Ranch.

Already. Seriously.

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Yes, it's just Day 2 of White Sox camp. And Hendriks, the team's $54 million free-agent closer who punched them out of the playoffs last year, is treating his initial spring bullpen sessions as if he's back in the postseason.

"When he's got the ball in his hand, he runs those RPMs up pretty high," Hendriks' fellow White Sox reliever Evan Marshall said Thursday. "He's redlining the way that he coaches himself verbally while he's throwing bullpens.

"The same fire and intensity he brings to the game mound, where he screams and yells out his own coaching or screams because he's happy, he does that in his bullpens, too. He matches the adrenaline in his practice that he uses in a game.

"I think that's admirable because most people would blow a gasket trying to do that all the time."

Yes, the White Sox got themselves a live wire in Hendriks. Marshall said that calling Hendriks a big personality is an understatement.

The new closer has been a cheerful, personable sort in his first few Zoom conversations with the media, talking as much about giving back to his new South Side community as he has about bringing a World Series trophy back to that same neighborhood.

 

But the White Sox, who according to general manager Rick Hahn had been trying to acquire Hendriks for a long time before finally signing him to a four-year contract this winter, don't need to be reminded of how unpleasant it can be to be on the other side of a Hendriks ninth inning.

In a still somewhat head-scratching decision, Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin chose to let Hendriks throw 49 pitches over 1.2 innings in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series last fall, the one that evened up the series with the White Sox at a game apiece. It seemed Melvin might have overused his All-Star closer, potentially leaving him unavailable for the win-or-go-home Game 3 the next afternoon.

That's what the White Sox thought, too.

Instead, Hendriks pitched the ninth inning of the decisive Game 3, striking out three of the four batters he faced to eliminate the White Sox from the franchise's first postseason appearance in a dozen years.

"It was the ultimate audition," Marshall said of Hendriks' performance in that series. "We thought we got him in Game 2. He threw 50 pitches to get the job done, and we were like, 'Yeah, this guy's done for tomorrow. Let's take on (A's reliever Jake) Diekman or whatever.'

"And sure enough, he punched (out) the side in the ninth the next day like it was nothing, and everyone's just looking around like, 'Man, we want that guy on our team. That guy's a fighter.'"

The White Sox finally got their man, and even though Alex Colomé did a generally terrific job working ninth innings the last two seasons, it's impossible to say that Hendriks is anything but an upgrade. With a 1.79 ERA and 39 saves over the last two years with the A's, he comes to the South Side as the best closer in baseball, boosting a bullpen that was already a strength into something really special.

And just like he took the ball for 50 pitches then turned around and grabbed it again in that playoff series, he's willing to do the same thing for his new skipper, Tony La Russa.

"I want to pitch, and I've reiterated that to him a couple times," Hendriks said Thursday. "Just like, 'Look, I want the ball in whatever situation,' whatever time he feels like. ... I can go back-to-back, back-to-back-to-back and we'll see how it goes.

"I want the ball. I want to pitch as much as I possibly can. I want to try to do as well as I can for the team, and if they need me in a certain situation, they need me. If they don't, they don't."

Indeed, Hendriks is bringing to the White Sox exactly what he threw at them last year. They stared down the best closer in the game and walked away with nothing but hopes for 2021.

Now that Hendriks is part of this roster, though, those hopes are a good deal higher.

 

"Liam's a monster, and we're thrilled to have him," Marshall said. "He's in rarefied air as one of the top one, two, three guys in the league as far as shutting it down.

"Whatever they paid him, I still think it's a bargain because he is the best."

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