Getting to know Liam Hendriks

Liam Hendriks was destined to join the Orioles. He’s been connected to them so many times, it just seemed inevitable.

Hendriks can rattle off the incidents in order, and with a smile on his bearded face. Maybe they’re mere coincidences, but he comes across as Baltimore baseball’s version of Forrest Gump.

Hendriks was scratched from an April 2012 start at Camden Yards after coming down with a severe case of food poisoning. He was supposed to work the finale of a three-game season-opening series for the Twins. Long reliever Anthony Swarzak took his place.

In the final spring training game of 2013, Brian Roberts hit a line drive up the middle in the third inning that struck Hendriks on the right hand. Luckily, he escaped with only a bruise and swollen pinkie finger.

“I tried to stop the ball with my hand instead of my face,” Hendriks said.

Who started for the Twins in the Orioles’ home opener that year? Yep, Liam Hendriks.

In April 2009, Orioles outfield prospect Kieron Pope was running out a ground ball during a minor league spring training game at Twin Lakes Park. He crossed first base and snapped his right femur, the sound emulating a broken bat.

Which pitcher was warming up in the opposing bullpen and heard the bone break? Yep, Liam Hendriks.

Hendriks takes the connection a bit further and ties it to Grant Balfour, also a native of Australia. The Orioles reached agreement with Balfour on a two-year, $15 million contract before backing away after his physical.

“I’ve met him once or twice,” Hendriks said. “I’ve met his dad a few more times. His dad was the GM for one of the Australian Baseball League teams. I think he just stepped down this past year. I’ve met Grant once or twice, but no, I don’t know him that well.

“It’s interesting how it all worked out with him not coming, and then it almost seemed like four or five days later I was coming over. Either the Orioles are dead-set on having an Australian with them or ...”

The Orioles claimed Hendriks, 24, off waivers from the Cubs on Dec. 23. The Cubs had claimed him from the Twins 10 days earlier.

“It was strange,” he said. “I found out that I had been designated by the Twins when I was at the Pro Athletes Outreach program in Miami and found out I got picked up by the Cubs. I actually found out that I got picked up by the Orioles through a text message from one of my friends who lives in Maryland. I was in Canada at the time and had no service. I got a thing through iMessage and it said, ‘Congratulations on being picked up by the Orioles.’ It was kind of confusing until I found out about it.

“It was a bit irritating for my sister. She went out and bought my dad a bunch of Cubs stuff, so she was a little disappointed, but now everyone’s excited. It’s a new opportunity for me and I’ll come in here and make the most of it.”

Hendriks has a lot to prove after going 2-13 with a 6.06 ERA in 30 games (28 starts) with the Twins over the past three seasons. He allowed 202 hits, walked 46 and struck out 100 in 156 innings.

Hendriks has averaged 1.6 walks per nine innings in the minors and 2.7 in the majors.

“It’s just really feeling comfortable,” he said. “I went through a couple phases when I was up with the Twins and I wasn’t quite feeling comfortable. And my last two outings last year I really started to feel more comfortable. I started throwing harder and I started being able to locate my pitches a little bit more. And I think it was lengthening my stride a little bit, and I think it’s definitely going to help my lower body as well because with lengthening everything out, I felt like there wasn’t as much strain toward the end.

“Coming to camp this year and lengthening my stride out and just try to make sure that everything’s flowing and start feeling comfortable again on the mound, and when I’m comfortable, I can pretty much put the ball where I want to, which is nice.”

Hendriks got a chance to sit down with pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti at the mini-camp in Sarasota.

“We’ll see how it goes with Dom and Dave,” he said. “They’re new to the organization, so it’s fresh eyes and that will be a good thing for me.

“I came back over from Australia and I live in Fort Myers, so it’s only like an hour and a half drive for me. I wanted to come and get a chance to meet the coaches and meet some of the guys. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a good chance to meet everybody and get the layout of the land. From what I can see, it’s an excellent organization and I’m excited for this year. “

He just needs to be careful where he eats.

Hendriks didn’t identify the Baltimore restaurant that gave him food poisoning, but always beware of spinach. That’s one thing Popeye never told us.

“That was fun,” Hendriks said. “I was stuck in a Baltimore hospital for four days. I ended up missing my first start. Luckily, my fiancee, now my wife, was there with me, so that made it a little bit easier. She stayed.

“Got home from opening day around midnight and just wasn’t feeling good. I had to get out of bed and lie on the floor, just trying everything. The room started spinning and it kind of went out the door then. I went to the hospital around 1:30 a.m. and stayed there. They gave me like nine IV bags and I still hadn’t gone to the bathroom, so I was severely dehydrated from throwing up and all that. It was an experience.

“I went to a restaurant and we narrowed it down because my wife got chicken and broccoli pasta and I got chicken and spinach. And they say spinach is one of the biggest things that gives you food poisoning because of the way it’s handled and if there’s anything left on it. There’s no way to have 100 percent certainty but we’re relatively sure that it was the spinach. I’ve gone back to spinach now. I love spinach. And I haven’t had any problems since.”

Shameless plug alert: I’m appearing on “Wall to Wall Baseball” today from noon-1:30 p.m. You’ve been warned.

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