AL saves leader calls 2021 a mixed bag
OAKLAND, Calif. — Liam Hendriks leads the American League in saves and he’s following up the Reliever of the Year season he had here in Oakland in 2020 with another good one.
He characterized his first five months in a White Sox as good and bad.
“There’s been stretches where I’ve done what I was brought here to do and stretches where I have underperformed,” Hendriks said. “That’s the case with any reliever, you’re going go through those little struggles but the biggest thing is how quickly you get out of those.”
At times Hendriks has made fixes quickly. Other times it took too long to suit him. There was a stretch, including an overlap of the Field of Dreams Game, where he was tipping pitches.
“I’m doing alright in save totals and strikeout totals but not well in the blown saves department,” he said.
And the 3.00 ERA is not where he wants it.
“You can dive into the numbers and tweak at them any way you want to, but it’s been a roller coaster year for me and it’s not the year I envisioned for myself,” Hendriks said. “But now we have a month to rectify the wrongs I’ve had through the course of the year.”
Hendriks said he doesn’t like having a lead as big as the Sox have enjoyed because it lends itself to easing up. It’s not how you start but how you finish, he says.
“At the end of the day, you get to the postseason and that’s where you can make or break a season,” Hendriks said. “You can have an All-Star caliber season and struggle in the playoffs and that’s all anyone is going to remember.”
Among major league relievers through Monday, Hendriks ranked first with 95 strikeouts against only seven walks, a 0.78 WHIP and inherited runners scored (10.0). His career-high 32 saves (in 36 opportunities) rank second and he’s five in strikeouts per nine innings at 14.25, When throwing at least 1 1⁄3 innings, he’s 9-for-9 in save opportunities.
For what it’s worth, with eight wins he looking to become the first Sox reliever with nine or more wins since Barry Jones had 11 in 1990.
He is also on pace to record 112 strikeouts , which would be the third-highest single-season total by a Sox reliever.
With Craig Kimbrel coming from the Cubs at the trade deadline, Hendriks has still been the primary ninth-inning man for manager Tony La Russa.
“He’s been a little off in his mechanics and it happens at some point in the year,” Hendriks said. “Happens to be. For him, being traded over you almost put too much pressure on yourself in that situation. We have no doubt that he’ll do exactly what is expected. The good thing is, there are egos about who gets the eighth or ninth. Nobody cares as long as there is a W on the board at the end.”
“I can remember when he first made an appearance, [with] Minnesota and thought, ‘Hey, this guy’s got talent,’ ’’ La Russa said Tuesday. “You see a competitor. He competes. With the A’s, he really be the go-to guy.
“[Pitching coach] Dave Duncan used to talk a lot about when [Dennis] Eckersley became such a great closer, it’s because he was used as a starter [as Hendriks was] and he had learned to pitch, not just throw. He had an array of pitches and he knew what the eighth and ninth inning was.”
Hendriks has learned to quickly self diagnose when things go wrong.
“It’s a feel thing,” he said. “Some days you’re not quite there, others you are locked in. You can’t think too much about individual mechanical issues. I’ll give myself a slap on the butt or a tap on the chin. Those are my mechanisms to get me locked in.”
“Liam has just really grown into it,” La Russa said. “Everything he’s done to his point, it’s all been part of making him outstanding.”