Oakland Athletics: Recapping Liam Hendriks unlikely road to the All-Star Game

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 22: Liam Hendriks #16 of the Oakland Athletics reacts to getting the save and beating the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 22, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 22: Liam Hendriks #16 of the Oakland Athletics reacts to getting the save and beating the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 22, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

Oakland Athletics’ reliever Liam Hendriks has had quite the rocky road throughout his career, but his hard work has culminated in his first All-Star bid.

Sometimes change is good and for Oakland Athletics pitcher Liam Hendriks, that phrase has never been truer.

Change comes in all forms and for Hendriks, it’s something he’s had to deal with his entire career. The son of a very successful Australian rules footballer, Hendriks originally looked to be on track to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in the Australian Football League.

But a change of heart led him to sign with the Minnesota Twins as an international free agent on the very day he turned 18-years-old. It was a bold move, one that would spark a 13-year odyssey that would culminate in an All-Star appearance.

But before we get to that — before we even get to his tenure with the A’s — we must first backtrack to his time in the Twins organization.

Hendriks spent the first four years of his baseball career working his way up through the ranks of the Twins’ minor league system before finally making his debut in September of 2011. However, his tenure in Minnesota wouldn’t quite go as planned.

The Twins initially used Hendriks as a starter, a role he had been groomed to fill since his time in the minors. Unfortunately, it just didn’t suit him in the majors as he finished his three-year Twins career with a 6.06 ERA in 28 starts.

Finally, in December of 2013, the Twins decided to designate Hendriks for assignment — a transaction that he would soon become all too familiar with.

Within a span of two months, Hendriks was DFA’d and claimed off waivers three times spending short stints with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles before finally ending up with the Toronto Blue Jays.

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The constant moving and roster uncertainty during that 2013/2014 offseason must’ve taken its toll on Hendriks but it continued to reinforce the central theme in his life.

That being his forced need to adapt to change.

That change would come in Toronto, but not at first. Hendriks would make just three starts with the Blue Jays posting a 6.08 ERA before being traded to the Kansas City Royals. He would make just six appearances with the team before, once again, being DFA’d.

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The Blue Jays decided that they wanted him back and made a small trade to reacquire the Australian pitcher. Only this time they had something different in mind for him.

Hendriks was moved to a full-time reliever role in what would turn out to be the greatest change of his baseball career. In his only season back with Toronto, Hendriks would appear in 58 games pitching his way to a stellar 2.92 ERA.

The move to the bullpen was a resounding success and Hendriks had seemingly revitalized his career. But just as his second tenure in Toronto seemed to be getting started, Hendriks was traded to the Oakland Athletics for veteran Jesse Chavez.

Unfortunately, he never quite reached the same heights in Oakland — at least at first, of course — spending a couple of seasons widdling away in bullpen mediocrity. The 2018 season, however, brought with it extreme highs and lows.

After struggling his way to a 7.36 ERA through the end of June, the low point came when he was designated for assignment for the fifth time in his career. It was a low blow for a player who had worked so hard to get to this point, but it wasn’t a move that was unexpected or undeserved.

Hendriks used that time in the minors to reinvent himself and work on the areas of his game that needed work. Most of all, it was a way to simply refresh his mind.

His time in the minors paid off as he was recalled to the major league roster in September of last year. And ever since his second stint in the majors, Hendriks has been nearly unhittable.

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The 30-year-old was able to lower his season ERA to just 4.13 after allowing just two earned runs over 13 innings in September. Hendriks impressed so much that he was actually called upon to start the opener for the A’s Wild Card Game.

He was expected to be a significant part of the A’s bullpen heading into this year but no one could have predicted his success this season. Hendriks was gradually moved up in the pecking order from middle reliever, to seventh-inning guy, to set-up man, finally culminating with a promotion to the closer role.

All the while, Hendriks has been pitching the best baseball of his career. Through 41 games, Hendriks has posted a spectacular 1.27 ERA and is fresh off picking up his fourth save of the season.

While he was initially promoted to the closer role following an injury to Blake Treinen, manager Bob Melvin has indicated that he has no intention of removing Hendriks from his role — at least for the time being.

Hendriks was initially snubbed from an All-Star appearance following a June in which he was named the American League Reliever of the Month.

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However, he saw nearly a decade and a half of grit and determination come to fruition when he was chosen as a replacement for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Charlie Morton in this year’s All-Star Game.

It was high time and well-deserved for a player who had followed an unlikely journey to this point. And each step of the way, Hendriks has been faced with change.

Change in his career choice, change in his role, and plenty of changes in his surroundings. But one thing has remained constant.

His fighting spirit.

On July 9th, Hendriks will become just the third Australian-born player to play in an MLB All-Star Game — oddly enough one of the other two is former Athletics reliever, Grant Balfour.

It will be the culmination of a journey that has taken a lifetime to complete. And it will take place just over one year after Hendriks was designated for assignment — hopefully for the final time.

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Who knows what awaits Hendriks in the future. But whatever change may come his way, he’s sure to take it in stride.