Oakland A’s Reliever Liam Hendriks wasn’t supposed to play in Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game. But then there are a lot of things this season Hendriks “wasn’t supposed” to do.
Hendriks, who was a last-minute replacement for Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, pitched one inning in the American League’s 4-3 victory over the National League. He struck out two batters, watched Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon deposit a pitch he left hanging over the plate over the center field wall, and then struck out the last batter.
AUSSIE! AUSSIE! AUSSIE!
— Oakland A's (@Athletics) July 10, 2019
The Blackmon pitch aside, it was an impressive performance for a player who, just last season, thought he might never play in the majors again.
“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 a 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.”
Hendriks ended last season strong and was re-signed by the A’s on a one-year contract. The hope was that Hendriks would help bolster an already-solid relief squad. Instead, Hendriks has been the best reliever on the team, and forced his way into the closer role. In 50.2 innings of work, Hendriks has struck out 63 batters, and allowed only seven runs, 17 walks, and just one home run. Since taking over as Oakland’s primary closer, Hendriks has thrown 9.1 scoreless innings, struck out 15 with zero walks, and converted all five save chances.
“My mindset didn’t really change,” Hendriks told NBC Sports regarding his new role. “I was just going out there and saying, ‘Whatever inning you want me to, I’ll throw.’ I think that’s been the best thing for me. It’s kind of taking away that edge and taking away that thing of like, ‘Why am I throwing in the third inning? I should be throwing in the sixth.’ It’s just taking away that. It’s just helped me to relax in games.”
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.
“He’s done a lot of things that have made him better,” A’s manager Bob Melvin recently told reporters. “He’s quicker to the plate now, I think he’s got better rhythm now, he’s got better off-speed stuff, he’s throwing a lot harder now due to a different workout routine and long-tossing and so forth. From where he was (last season) to where he is right now, it’s been terrific to see.”
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 on the podcast. “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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