Sox Insider

Liam Hendriks: Sox 'pen needs 'to go back to Square 1'

Sox Insider

Does the White Sox bullpen need a reboot?

Manager Tony La Russa doesn't think so, plenty confident that a relief corps loaded with power arms will be just fine, and it's not at all difficult to envision a future in which he's right.

But in the present, the White Sox 'pen has been a bugaboo, taking a lot of the blame for late-game letdowns. South Side relievers have taken all five losses during the team's 4-5 start to the regular season.

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The latest came Sunday, when $54 million closer Liam Hendriks made his first appearance at Guaranteed Rate Field in a White Sox uniform and promptly blew the save, surrendering a game-tying homer to Carlos Santana.

"It wasn’t the outing I was hoping to have, my first outing in a home white uniform," Hendriks said Monday. "But it is what it is. I have to be better."

Indeed, fans are probably thinking similarly about the bullpen as a whole, with Hendriks, Aaron Bummer, Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer and Matt Foster all factoring into tough losses in the first week-plus of the campaign.

The White Sox spent the spring prepping everyone for the best bullpen in baseball. That hasn't materialized yet.

"As a whole, we’re all trying a little too hard, trying to exceed expectations or live up to the high bar we set for ourselves," Hendriks said. "Once everyone settles down, gets into that monotonous rhythm that we get used to as baseball players, we’ll end up fine. This is a little bit of a speed bump, testing guys resilience and how guys bounce back from certain things.

 

"We set lofty goals for ourselves in spring training, seeing the group that is in here, and unfortunately, we didn’t get off to the start we needed. When that happens, you start to overanalyze, put way too much pressure on yourself, try to live up to what everyone said. And when it doesn’t happen, it just snowballs. So right now we need to go back to Square 1 as a group and take it game by game."

Hendriks' message applies to the White Sox as a whole, too, not just the bullpen. This is a team that spoke during the spring of World Series expectations. Heck, that's why Hendriks is here in the first place, the White Sox adding the guy who ended their brief postseason appearance last year to the next four years of championship chases on the South Side.

In the early going, there's been recurring defensive miscues, a lack of timely hitting and starting pitchers who have pitched well but haven't made it too deep into games. Still, the greatest gripes have been directed at the bullpen, which has not lived up to the big preseason predictions quite yet.

Marshall said that the White Sox relief corps being "anything less than elite would be a disappointment." To this point, the White Sox bullpen has not been elite.

That's not to say there haven't been bright spots. Michael Kopech has been a contender for the best story of the White Sox season to date, emerging as a multi-inning super weapon for La Russa. Kopech and Garrett Crochet have both pitched well.

As for the rest of them, they're working on it. And what they do when faced with this bumpy start will say a lot about whether they can live up to all that preseason hype.

"You’ve got to live on past experiences, and talking to a guy like Evan Marshall ... it’s nice talking to him about certain things we’ve gone through in the past and how we’ve had to battle adversity," Hendriks said. "This is where the character comes in, this is where you can really tell what defines a person, their character and where it comes through.

"We started off poorly as a whole. As a group, we’ve started off poorly. There have been a couple of guys that have gone out there and have done exactly what they need to do, like Michael. But, as a couple of guys like us, we need to make sure we go out there and prove (it)."

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