There hasn’t been a more reliable arm in the Oakland bullpen the last eight weeks than Liam Hendriks.
Or as the Aussie right-hander puts it, “I’m finally pitching like the guy they traded for.”
When Oakland traded starter Jesse Chavez to the Blue Jays last November to bolster the bullpen, it was the club’s first major off-season move and an indication of the esteem they had for Hendriks, who was coming off a season in Toronto where he was 5-0 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP.
So it was with some alarm that the A’s saw the first 30 games of the season implode on Hendriks, who had an 8.27 ERA, a 1.776 WHIP and a .394 opponents’ batting average in that span. Something had to be wrong, and it was. The club put Hendriks on the disabled list for six weeks with a triceps strain.
Manager Bob Melvin brought him back in low-impact roles to begin after he came off the DL on June 19, but since his return, Hendriks has churned through opposing hitters with implacable efficiency, owning a 1.91 ERA, a 0.198 WHIP and a .191 opponents’ batting average.
More than that, he’s been at his best in high-leverage situations, twice pitching out of bases-loaded jams in the last few weeks. He’s been a prime time reliever when inheriting base runners, allowing just three of 26 to score. That rivals bullpen mate Ryan Dull, who is the A’s acknowledged master at the craft, allowing just five of 44 inherited runners to score.
“Liam allows me to give Ryan Dull a break,” Melvin said, aware that Dull is just two appearances shy of leading the AL in games pitched. “I was concerned with how much I was using him. Given what he’s done with runners on base, it’s hard not to use him, but now with Liam pitching the way he is, it gives us another guy in that role we have a lot of confidence in.”
Hendriks is feeling every more confident in himself and says he looks forward to big time roles.
“It’s not that I want us to have a lot of guys on base,” he said. “But I take pride in pitching well in those situations.”
Hendriks, whose overall ERA is at a deceptively high 4.23, said that since recovering from his injury his slider is better than ever, something Melvin signs off on, too.
“Before I wasn’t able to fully extend when I was throwing the ball,” Hendriks said. “Now I can, and it makes all the difference. My pitches have more late life now. I‘m getting a lot more swings and misses.”
–Sean Doolittle came in early Sunday morning, tested his left arm by playing catch, then showered, packed up and headed for the airport. The lefty reliever will make his first appearance for triple-A Nashville Monday, and the hope is he’ll be ready to come off the DL a week from Monday when the A’s return from Texas and Chicago to face Cleveland. “I hate to put timetables on this stuff,” he said. “But I’m hoping to be joining the guys when they come back from this road trip.”
–The A’s are sending Jesse Hahn out on an injury rehabilitation assignment Tuesday with Nashville, where he’ll join Doolittle. For now, Melvin said, the plan is for Hahn, who last pitched 10 days ago, to make one start with the Sounds, then return to the Oakland rotation, although the manager admits to “playing it by ear.”
–Sonny Gray is still dealing with some inflammation in his forearm, but it is lessening. Gray is hopeful of returning to the rotation in September, but Melvin suggested Sunday that was not a sure thing. “It just depends,” Melvin said. “I don’t want to say it’s not important; it’s nice to know you are healthy and don’t have to worry about it in the offseason. But it’s not like we’re going to push him to get him out there just to get him out there.”