Bumpy outings aside, White Sox’ Liam Hendriks ‘on track’ to finding right track

CLEVELAND — The White Sox are off to a 6-3 start with series wins in all three they’ve played, each one against teams with postseason aspirations, and they’ve done it without having their closer at his best.

Is anyone worried that Liam Hendriks, the two-time defending Mariano Rivera Relief Pitcher of the Year, owns a 5.40 ERA and has labored through four of his five save opportunities?

Assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler, who spends most of his game time in the Sox bullpen, is not.

“I’ll never say I’m worried about Liam and I’m not now,” Hasler said Monday after the Sox’ game against the Indians that what was supposed to open a seven-game road trip against AL Central teams was postponed due to rain, cold and snow. “He’s very much in tune with what is going on, and he’s very smart about where his body position needs to be. It’s still early.”

Because of the abbreviated three-and-a-half week spring training this year, right now is when pitchers would ordinarily be putting finishing touches on their spring preparations. Hendriks has been far from precise locating his four-seam fastball that has averaged 97.1 mph and a biting slider and occasional curve.

“I’m just not getting the fastball after [a good slider] into the right location,” Hendriks said Saturday. “That seems to be the issue I’m going through right now.”

Hasler and pitching coach Ethan Katz sat with Hendriks in the coaches room at Guaranteed Rate Field over the weekend. And it was Hendriks, a pitch data and video connoisseur who is in tune with his delivery and performance, who more or less ran the meeting.

“The metrics are fine,” Hasler said. “A lot of things point to him being OK — the ball has not been hit as hard as what we maybe think. He’s getting strikeouts. Got some bad counts, pulling the ball he’s not trying to pull. He’s trying to stay behind the ball.”

The discussion was about the height of Hendriks’ release point, his release angle being a shade off from center and other finer points of his delivery.

“He is right on track, he’s right where he needs to be,” Hasler said. “He has a real good grasp of things.”

In five save opportunities, Hendriks blew one on Opening Day in Detroit but converted four straight since. In five innings, he has struck out nine batters and walked one. But has also allowed 11 hits, and needed an unusual 1-5 putout Saturday to save himself from blowing the save.

Throwing out a perfect ninth inning Friday to preserve a 3-2 win over the Rays, Hendriks threw an average of 26.5 pitches to an average of six batters in the other four one-inning stints.

Katz said Hendriks is overthrowing his slider at times, not an uncommon temptation for pitchers to fall prey to. Hasler sees that often.

“He’s human,” Hasler said. “They can all do that at times. Lance Lynn and Michael Kopech will do that. The other day Bennett Sousa tried to get a little more on his breaking ball. That goes with the ultra competitive nature of these guys. They got you in a good count and want to put you away and they want to make it a little better. We call it ‘overcooking’ it. They know it and get mad at themselves for trying to do too much but it doesn’t lead down a good path.”

As for doing too much work wise, it’s hard to keep Hendriks down. His four saves came in a span of five days, and the postponed game gave him two straight welcome days off in a row.

“He loves to pitch, he wants to be the guy, he is the guy,” Hasler said. “He wants to part of this, to help us get to the promised land where we want to be.”

NOTE: Monday’s postponed game will be made up as part of a split doubleheader starting at 12:10 p.m. (CT) on July 12. The Sox are staying in rotation with Dallas Keuchel (Tuesday), Jimmy Lambert (Wednesday) and Dylan Cease (Thursday).

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