Liam Hendriks on his Evolution to Blue Jays Bullpen Stud

Liam Hendriks bombed as a starter. Pitching almost exclusively in that role prior to this season, he went 3-15 with a 5.92 ERA. The ineffectiveness turned him into a nomad. The 26-year-old Australian was property of five organizations – including Toronto twice – from December 2013 to October 2014.

This year, he bolstered the Blue Jays bullpen. In 58 relief appearances, Hendriks fashioned a 2.92 ERA and a 2.14 FIP, and his strikeout (9.9 per nine innings) and walk rates (1.5) were exemplary. The righty was credited with a win in each of his five decisions.

Originally a Minnesota Twin, Hendriks was acquired by Toronto from Kansas City last Halloween-eve in exchange for Santiago Nessy. He talked about his successful transition when the Jays visited Fenway Park in September.

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Hendriks on the reasons behind his breakthrough: “I did a few things differently last offseason than I had in the past. For one, I went down to the Dominican and played there for two months. I joke around that maybe my velocity kicked up because all I ate was Dominican chicken. But no, I had a blast. Probably the main thing was doing a lot of Pilates with my wife. It’s a lot more core, a lot more stability; it’s a little bit of that explosive stuff that helps keep you strong.

“I think my average fastball velocity before this year was 88-90 (mph). This year I’ve been sitting roughly 94 and I’ve hit 99. That’s a bit of a jump. Before, I think the highest was 95, and that was sparingly. This year, going to the pen and changing my mindset has paid off.

“I’m not worrying, ‘OK, I need to throw a perfect pitch here.’ Now it’s ‘OK, let’s get this first-pitch fastball to the inner half, or to the outer half’ – whichever side we’re going to – and get ahead.’ That’s a lot better than being 1-0, 2-0 like I was when I was a starter and trying to nitpick.”

On power pitching and command: “I’m throwing pretty hard, but at the same time, it all depends on what you classify as a power pitcher. I’m a fastball-slider guy, and this year my slider is about the same velocity my fastball was last year. My slider has been around 87-89. As long as I can stay behind it and keep it low in the zone, with some bite to it… but I still don’t know that I’d classify myself as a power pitcher, per se. There’s more velocity, but I’d like to remain in the control category I’ve always been in.

“I’ve always had a pretty low walk total, but in the past it was usually because I got to 2-2 or 3-2 and was throwing a fastball right down the middle. Now I’ve getting ahead of guys and have more than one pitch to put them away with. There’s a difference between command and control. I used to be more of a control guy. I wasn’t throwing quality pitches when I needed to, and this year I’m locating better. Instead of, ‘OK, try to hit this at somebody,’ it’s, ‘OK, I’m going to throw it right here and you’re going to do nothing with it.’

“When I was with the Twins, I was young and not fully prepared. I think I got called up a little too early. As much as I thought I was an old soul on the mound, I kind of got pushed around pretty easily. It wasn’t ideal. Now I have that bulldog mentality where I go out there feeling that I’m going to dominate. I’m throwing harder and my slider has more bite, so if I can throw my fastball low and away, and then throw my slider off the same plane, a lot of guys don’t have a chance.”

On his old team and his learning curve:“The Twins were very big on control, and were renowned for their guys having good changeups and good sinkers. I think they’re maybe trying to break that mold a little right now. But I loved my time with the Twins. It was a great organization to come up with. They gave me my first opportunity. Actually, they gave me a lot of opportunities. I just didn’t take the ball and run with it.

“Sometimes what you’re taught is a matter of how it’s delivered. Growing up as a kid, you get advice from your dad and don’t really listen. Then you get the exact same advice from a coach and you listen more. You put it into practice – it’s the same advice – and it works. I maybe had some issues with that. They were trying to tell me the same thing, but I wasn’t quite connecting the dots. Here, someone dumbed it down for me, or at least they said it in a way that got me on the same wavelength. Same ideology, different delivery, and it works.

“A change of scenery can help. This clubhouse is fantastic. Everybody is happy and upbeat, and ragging on each other. We didn’t quite have that with the Twins. When I was there, it was more, ‘Do your own bit, go about your own thing, do your own business.’ Here, you mess around with the other guys and kind of beat each other up. The atmosphere and chemistry we have on this team is pretty special.”

On changing teams five times in ten months: “I was designated by the Twins and was claimed by the Cubs. I was in Canada when I found out I was claimed by the Orioles, and didn’t even know I’d been designated; I got a text message from a buddy saying, ‘Hey, congratulations on being with the Orioles.’ Then I got to spring training and they went out and signed Ubaldo Jimenez, and I was on the move again.

“I didn’t do very well when I went to minor-league camp with the Jays (in 2014). I don’t know if I was going through a dead-arm phase, but while I felt fine, the ball wasn’t coming out all that well. I made a couple of adjustments and started off pretty good in Triple-A, but when I got called up, every time I threw a strike it was getting hit. All of a sudden I was on the move to Kansas City. It sucked when I was designated by them, but at the same time, it was the best thing for me. They have a stacked bullpen and I was out of options. Then, when I was in the Dominican, I found out I’d been traded back to the Blue Jays, who told me I’d be working out of the pen.

“Changing teams like that was tough, but while part of me thought, ‘No one wants me,’ I kept getting claimed, so obviously somebody wanted me. It was kind of a Catch-22. People liked me and people didn’t like me. I had an offer to pitch in Korea, too. Not knowing where I’d be kind of wore on me, and it wore on my wife as well. What we really wanted was stability, wherever that might be. I ended up making the team here, on the last day of cuts, and I haven’t looked back. It’s gone well.”

We hoped you liked reading Liam Hendriks on his Evolution to Blue Jays Bullpen Stud by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Caudata
Guest
Caudata

unfortunate timing today.

Turd
Guest
Turd

Because he gave up an infield single?
It’s Hawkins, not Hendriks who took the loss yesterday.

exxrox
Member
Member
exxrox

I wouldn’t really blame either pitcher for that inning. Not a lot of hard hit balls, and a lot of bad luck (infield hits, tight strike zone, inconclusive replay).

Mark
Guest
Mark

Hendriks did exactly what you wanted him to do. Got a groundball right at the SS. Unfortunately, Deshields outran the ball.

Caudata
Guest
Caudata

Didn’t say he sucked, just said it was unfortunate.