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Sox panic-free after Liam Hendriks' back-to-back clunkers

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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Liam Hendriks' reaction to back-to-back clunker outings?

"He's just drooling and salivating and hoping to get another chance today, smoke coming out of his ears and nose," Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa said of his All-Star closer before Sunday's game.

The current series against the New York Yankees has been a tough one for Hendriks. He first gave up two homers and turned a three-run lead into a one-run deficit in Thursday's Field of Dreams game. Two nights later, he stepped into a tie game in the 10th inning and gave up three more runs, including another homer.

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All told, Hendriks was tagged for five hits, three homers and six earned runs, seven total, while recording just four outs in two outings.

Tim Anderson's epic walk-off home run Thursday meant the White Sox split the first two games of this series. But it wasn't a pleasant sight for White Sox fans expecting dominance from their team's big offseason signing against the kind of team he was brought in to shut down in October.

Does that mean there's reason to be concerned? No, not really.

Sure, Hendriks has allowed more than his share of homers, the 11 long balls he's surrendered this season nearly twice as many as the combined six he gave up during his two excellent seasons as the Oakland Athletics' closer in 2019 and 2020. It's already the second biggest single-season total of his career, trailing only the 17 he allowed in 16 starts for the Minnesota Twins in 2012.

 

But Hendriks also boasts an impressive enough track record that two bad days — as high-profile as they might've been against the Yankees, with one of the games in front of a massive national audience — shouldn't shake anyone's confidence in the South Side closer.

Hendriks' 26 saves are the most in the American League, of course, and he's shown up over and over again for the White Sox this season.

"That's the same guy that the last two times has given up (the runs), that's the same guy," La Russa said. "He's fine. I hope he gets a chance to save it today. He's ready."

The same explanation can be applied to Craig Kimbrel, the White Sox eighth-inning man who also happens to be one of baseball's best-ever closers, ranking ninth on the all-time saves list. He also coughed up a run in Saturday night's loss to the Yankees, yielding his second homer since coming to the South Side in a splashy deadline deal with the Chicago Cubs.

He's now allowed more homers in seven appearances with the White Sox than he did in 39 with the Cubs earlier this season.

But Kimbrel, too, has a track record that looms far larger than his most recent outing, meaning any mass panic over the back end of the White Sox bullpen is, for the moment, unwarranted.

In fact, that back-end group of Hendriks, Kimbrel, Michael Kopech and the non-ponytail'd Aaron Bummer figures to be a big-time strength come playoff time. That's what Rick Hahn was thinking when he pulled off the Crosstown swap for Kimbrel, that a dominant group of relievers could be teamed with a dominant group of starting pitchers to do an awful lot of run prevention in October.

Over a three-day span in mid August, it might not look like it, but these are some arms to be feared.

When it comes to Hendriks, specifically, La Russa pointed to all the times he's come up big for the White Sox already this season, in situations that the South Side skipper called "really severe challenges," including six-out saves, nailing down one-run wins and getting in the closer mentality without the benefit of a save situation.

So the solution to the woes of recent vintage?

Get back out there.

"He's a very tough guy," La Russa said. "He's proven it, and he'll be ready, hopefully today. That will be a wonderful challenge.

"I hope with every breath I take that we all get a chance to see him with the lead in the ninth inning today."

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