White Sox approaching ‘very critical stretch,’ closer Liam Hendriks says

SAN FRANCISCO — Liam Hendriks will come off the injured list Monday, he said, and not a moment too soon.

“This is a very critical stretch for us,” the White Sox closer said before the team opened a three-game series against the Giants.

The Sox (35-39) entered it trailing the first place Twins by 5 1/2 games in the AL Central. They were 4 1/2 behind the Guardians, and on Monday they play Twins at home to start a stretch of 15 straight games in 14 days against AL Central teams.

“It’s definitely make or break to help the front office clarify what we’re doing this year,” Hendriks said. “Whether it’s a good year, whether it’s a sit and wait year, whatever it is. But we need to in this clubhouse figure it out and take care of some business. We are facing our division which is good but can also be very bad.”

Hendriks threw a simulated game Friday, the last step before he gets activated after going on the injured list June 14 with a forearm strain. Were it up to him, he would have been activated Friday. He won’t be available to pitch on back to back days until after two outings and days off following, he said.

Hendriks is as intense as they come but he said the key for the Sox, who lost six of their last eight games before Friday, is to “fall in love with the game” again.

“If we can play our kind of baseball, go out there and have fun and enjoy the game again we’ll be just fine because the talent level in this clubhouse, we know what we need to do but we need to fall in love with the game again,” Hendriks said. “Unfortunately some guys, in those tough stretches, you fall out of love with the game, you start pressing and pushing, but that never works. You have to go back to the basics, falling in love with the game, supporting everybody. That’s what’s going to get us back.”

Hendriks saw it during the Sox’ 11-4 rout of the Angels Tuesday. Then they lost 4-1 Wednesday.

“I don’t think it went away in [that] game, you’re just not going to win every game no matter how good your vibes are.”

Eloy in left — at Charlotte

Eloy Jimenez played the outfield for the first time in his rehab assignment, but there is no timetable for his return.

“He’s getting more comfortable with his legs, with his hamstring,” assistant general manager Chris Getz said. “You see it with the running times down the first base line and some of the sprint work we’ve been doing, so the arrow is pointing up.”

Jimenez had surgery to repair a torn hamstring tendon behind his right knee April 26 and had one setback on his rehab assignment. Getz said the leg is not affecting his swing. Jimenez, who walked three times Friday, is batting .196 with one homer in 14 games for Charlotte.

“We haven’t seen that,” Getz said. “He’ll find his groove. It comes with consistency. Get in the outfield [Friday night] and see where it goes from there. Got to get him comfortable out there.”

Said manager Tony La Russa: “I’d be surprised if he got back in the early parts of next week. I don’t think he’s that close. But he’s improving.”

Cueto misses San Francisco

As timing would have it, right-hander Johnny Cueto’s turn falls Monday when the Sox open a series against the Twins, preventing him from pitching in San Francisco, where he pitched the last six seasons.

“It would have been fun,” said Cueto signed a six-year, $130 million contract before the 2016 season.

“Fans and teammates treated me well there.”

Cueto won 18 games, pitched five complete games, posted a 2.76 ERA and made his second All-Star appearance in 2016. He had arm trouble the next two years, including Tommy John Surgery in 2018. His 2021 season – 21 starts and a 4.08 ERA while dealing with lat, flexor and elbow strains — was his best since 2017. But interest in the free agent market was limited last winter, and he would sign a minor league deal with the Sox.

At age 36, Cueto has been a find with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts and one five-inning relief appearance. He ranks sixth on the Sox in Baseball Reference wins above replacement.

“There were a few teams that were interested in me, but they weren’t offering a good deal,” Cueto said. “And they were offering me just a spot for the bullpen.

“I’ve been a starter for my whole career. I have my routine as a starter. I know what I have to do to prepare for the games. Once you know you aren’t able to make it as a starter, then you go to the bullpen. That’s not my case.”

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