Liam Hendriks is the new White Sox closer after receiving a four-year deal worth $54 million. He was the American League’s Reliever of the Year in 2020 after posting a 1.78 ERA and 0.671 WHIP, recording 14 saves in 15 chances, and walking three batters and striking out 37 in 25 1/3 innings.
The walk total is one short of the number of teams that have designated him for assignment.
The Orioles did it in spring training 2014 and lost him to the Blue Jays on a waiver claim. They had no idea that he’d be such a late bloomer and so dominant after changing roles.
The Orioles claimed Hendriks from the Cubs on Dec. 23, 2013. He wore No. 62 in camp while competing for a spot in the rotation. We hardly knew him before he was gone.
There were stories, of course. How Hendriks, a native of Australia, started for the Twins in the Orioles’ home opener the previous season and surrendered an early three-run lead. He lasted only 4 2/3 innings and watched from the dugout as Chris Davis hit a grand slam to give the Orioles a 9-5 win.
How Hendriks couldn’t make his first start in 2012, also in Baltimore, because he came down with food poisoning the night before opening day. And how he was hit on the right hand by a Brian Roberts comebacker during his last spring start in 2013.
Practically writes itself.
“I tried to stop the ball with my hand instead of my face,” Hendriks said in a January 2014 interview.
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 and snapped his right femur while crossing first base, the sound emulating a broken bat. The fields at the complex were so bad, opposing teams began forfeiting games to avoid injuries.
Which pitcher was warming up in the opposing bullpen and heard the bone break? Liam Hendriks, of course - baseball’s version of Forrest Gump.
The connections to the Orioles didn’t stop. Hendriks had ties to reliever Grant Balfour, also a native of Australia, who agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract before the club backed away due to concerns over his physical.
“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,” Hendriks said. “Either the Orioles are dead-set on having an Australian with them or ...”
(Alexander Wells will take any edge he can get.)
The Orioles were Hendriks’ third team in a span of two weeks. He was in Canada when a friend texted him with news that the Orioles selected him.
Hendriks never got into an exhibition game. Kelvin De La Cruz appeared in six of them, Fabio Castillo two and Edgmer Escalona one - which I mention only because I wanted to type their names one last time.
I remember how Hendriks wouldn’t identify which Baltimore restaurant gave him food poisoning, but he blamed it on the spinach.
“That was fun,” Hendriks said. “I was stuck in a Baltimore hospital for four days. I ended up missing my first start. Luckily, my fiancée - 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.”
Well, $54 million can buy you a lot of spinach.
The Orioles designated Hendriks to make room for pitcher Ubaldo Jiménez on the 40-man roster.
Insert your own joke here.
On the day that the Orioles lost Hendriks to the waiver claim, reliever Alfredo Aceves left camp and returned home to Mexico to obtain his work visa. Manager Buck Showalter indicated that David Lough could evolve into a leadoff hitter. Suk-min Yoon played catch and still had us convinced that he was a major league pitcher. And I kept chasing rumors about the Orioles’ interest in free agents Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana.
I joined the chorus in reporting that Morales rated ahead of Cruz, but was told late at night by a team source that I had it backward. Cruz actually was the guy, and it turned out to be true.
I had three sources completely dismiss reports that the Orioles were trying to sign Santana, shooting them down with gusto. Never made sense to me anyway.
What also makes no sense is how Hendriks has gone from journeyman failed starter to elite closer, but the unpredictability of sports is a huge part of its charm.