Liam Hendriks

Liam Hendriks knocks rust off, ‘needs to earn' closer spot

Liam Hendriks had a rough outing against the Los Angeles Angels upon returning for the first time since his cancer diagnosis.

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In the eighth inning, the Sox queued up the We Will Rock You mix for Liam Hendriks, who entered the game with a roar from the crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field for his highly-anticipated season debut.

From December to April, Hendriks underwent cancer treatment for Stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with in early December. His last chemotherapy treatment was Apr. 3, almost two months prior to him taking the mound for the first time since October 2022.

Hendriks got through one inning, but not without trouble along the way. He allowed three hits, one walk and two earned runs on 27 pitches. 

His velocity was further along than most probably expected. Over the course of his Triple-A stint in early May his fastball topped out at 94 mph. On Monday, his fastball saw 96 mph and his slider caught 89 mph. 

In the end, his command wasn't up to standard and he struggled to get movement on his slider. That culminated in the Angels taking advantage of him at the plate and building two insurance runs on their one-run lead. 

"Unfortunately, for me, just wasn't able to get the two-strike pitch where I wanted to," Hendriks said after the game. "Unfortunately, that was the bit for today. It was get ahead, generally, and then struggle to put them away."

RELATED: A look at Liam Hendriks' timeline up until activation

Certainly, without making excuses for Hendriks, it was a rare game for the All-Star closer. He saw multiple standing ovations before the game, walking out to the bullpen, warming up and entering the game. He was emotional before the game, tearing up next to his wife, Kristi. 

The Angels joined Guaranteed Rate Field in applauding Hendriks before the start of his inning, including Matt Thaiss, who stepped out of the box to allow for a longer ovation.

Unfortunately, for Hendriks, while he appreciated the spotlight for his momentous achievement, it made his mental process difficult for him. He thrives on anger, and upon learning the Angels are "nice people," it became difficult for him to enter performance mode. 

He also mentioned he didn't grapple his "killer instinct" when he got batters down to two strikes. Hendriks felt that was missing from his mental puzzle and plans to correct it. 

Some would suspect, considering he's undergone chemotherapy treatment from December to January, that Hendriks would be physically drained after his first outing.

However, that wasn't the case; his pain wasn't as significant as last season when Hendriks believes he was throwing games with cancer. 

"Physically, I feel fine," Hendriks said. "Obviously, there's the little aches and pains, but I don't feel as bad as I did at the end of last year. I was practically limping and not being able to move my right arm. Everything feels a heckuva lot better than last year, that's for sure."

Hendriks seems comfortable putting this game in the rearview mirror. He earned his day in the spotlight and graciously and rightfully soaked in what is a historic moment in sports and baseball history. He defeated cancer and successfully regained the major league mound in astonishing time.

But now, he's ready to get back to business. 

Objectively, Hendriks performed a rough outing. He took the blame for costing the White Sox two runs in the inning. The Sox would have tied the game with Eloy Jimenez's home run in the ninth inning had Hendriks not given up a pair of runs. 

The Sox are taking things slow with Hendriks. Hendriks completed a lengthy rehab stint before throwing an additional two bullpens with the White Sox. After Monday, they might be inclined to continue on a gradual trajectory. 

And while Hendriks understands their reasoning for doing so, he's hungry to return to his elite ways on the mound. Until he gets there, he knows he has to earn the closer spot first. 

"I will never be OK with mediocrity," Hendriks said. "I will never be OK with not being at the backend of the bullpen. But, in saying that, I need to earn it. I don't want handouts. I need to earn it. At the end of the day, that's mine. 

"I will get there and I will earn it myself."

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