Twelve months and three days ago, Oakland Athletics reliever Liam Hendriks accepted an assignment to Triple-A, having been designated for assignment after a horrid start to the season, during which he posted a 7.36 ERA in 13 games.
Now, he’s headed to Cleveland for the 90th annual All-Star Game.
The Australian reliever got his chance thanks to an injury to presumptive American League starter Charlie Morton. Named the AL Reliever of the Month for June, Hendriks has gone from an afterthought to one of the most dependable relievers in baseball as the A’s begin what looks like a repeat of last year’s playoff run.
Hendriks, a first-time All-Star, joins teammate Matt Chapman, who was elected on the player ballot, as the A’s representatives. He’s the third Australian to ever be named to the All-Star Game, and the second Australian closer to be named from Oakland, the first being Grant Balfour. The third Australian — of the 31 who have played Major League Baseball, was catcher Dave Nilsson.
Hendriks missed 46 games with injury last season, and after the worst stretch of his professional career, he was designated for assignment for the fifth time in his eight-year big league tenure. No teams wanted him, so he headed to Triple-A Nashville. After working on his mechanics — getting quicker and adding more leg drive — and building up arm strengh with a new throwing regimen, he saw his fastball velocity jump from 91 to 97 mph.
He went 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 23 appearances for the Nashville Sounds, and struck out 43 with only four walks in 25 1/3 innings.
When he was called up in September, he was used as an opener, and shined. Hendriks opened eight games and posted a 2.08 ERA in 8 2/3 innings in the role.
He’s been more of a traditional reliever this season, but has continued to be just as effective. Hendriks, 30, is 3-0 with three saves and a 1.29 ERA (7 ER, 48 2/3 IP) with 60 strikeouts in 40 games, including two opening appearances. Strictly as a reliever, he has a 0.96 ERA, giving up five runs in 46 2/3 innings with 58 strikeouts and a .193 opponents batting average in 38 appearances. His ERA leads all Major League relievers, and he ranks third among AL relievers in fewest home runs allowed per nine innings (0.19).
Having replaced closer Blake Treinen during the latter’s recent stay on the 10-day injured list, Hendriks is in the midst of a career-high and A’s season-high tying 14 2/3 consecutive scoreless inning streak, and has not allowed a run in 26 of his last 28 appearances (3 ER in 33 2/3 IP, 0.80 ERA).
In the month of June, he went 1-0 with two saves and a 0.60 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 15 innings over 14 relief appearances.
As Oakland heads into the All-Star break and a three-game series in Seattle with the Mariners, the A’s are 48-40. On July 6 of last season, they had an identical record, and went on to win 49 of their next 74 games and earn the AL’s second Wild Card slot.