Sports Spectrum Weekly

Oakland A's reliever Liam Hendriks' newfound health, humility turning into career-best season

When Oakland A’s reliever Liam Hendriks was sent down to Triple-A last season, it was fair to wonder if he’d ever play in a Major League Baseball game for Oakland again. But Hendriks was called back up in September, and finished strong. The A’s liked what they saw and signed Hendriks to a one-year, 2.15 million contract.

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Their faith is paying off. Hendriks might be the best reliever in Oakland this year.

Over 28 appearances and 34.1 innings, Hendriks — who has a lifetime 4.50 ERA — has 35 strikeouts, 24 hits allowed, seven earned runs given up, and a team-leading 1.83 ERA. His advanced stats are even stronger: Hendriks’ WAR (wins above replacement) is 1.1, the highest of his career, and in less than half a season.

Part of Hendriks’ success has been the increased velocity on his fastball. After recovering from hip surgery early last year, Hendriks’ fastball tops out at 96-mph, four miles per hour faster than before the surgery. Hendriks combines this with a hard slider and a devastating curveball. But equally as important to Hendriks’ rejuvenation has been a change in perspective.

“Last year was an interesting year,” Hendriks said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast this past April. “I was hurt, struggling physically, but I ended up taking it out mentally on not only myself, and my wife, but also the team. I ended up having pretty bad attitude toward the end of last year when I was hurt. [I] got humbled by being designated for assignment and [going back] to Triple-A. I was going back to the grassroots of things and saying, ‘I play this game because I love the game, not because of what I think it should bring me.’ It humbled me a lot. I came back in September and was able to do well.”

Hendriks’ perspective on his career is linked to his faith. Hendriks is a Christian who actively attends the A’s team chapel, has Bible studies with his fellow players, and who gives back regularly to the community around him. Hendriks and his wife are specifically involved in raising awareness and support for humane societies, and most recently have become involved in a program called Blessings In a Backpack, which ensures children dependent on their schools for food have plenty to eat each weekend.

“You look at all the references through the Bible, of Jesus giving back,” Hendriks said. “Giving what you can, doing what you can, [is important]. Not too many people have a similar platform as athletes … I’m going to use my platform, I’m going to make sure people know they can use theirs. I want to be known … not only for what I do on the field, but what I do off the field and do in people’s lives.”

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