You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out but the Toronto Blue Jays pitchers have had their fair share of struggles over the first month and a half of the season. Besides maybe Mark Buerhle, everyone in the rotation has been beaten badly at one point or another and even the bullpen, which was supposed to be a major asset for the team, has struggled with consistency in the early going.
Neil Wagner, Chad Jenkins, and Marcus Stroman have all been called up from Triple-A Buffalo at one point or another to help out, but none of them have been able to cement a position in the bullpen so far. That’s where Liam Hendriks comes into play. The 25-year-old right-handed pitcher from Perth, Australia was scooped up off of waivers from the Twins last February and has been making a name for himself in the Blue Jays’ organization ever since.
Sep 10, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins pitcher Liam Hendriks (62) delivers a pitch during the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Hendriks’ career began when the Twins signed him as a free agent in 2007 for a $170,000 bonus. He did not disappoint stateside, posting a 2.05 ERA, 52 strikeouts over 44 innings for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Twins. He was sidelined for all of the 2008 season as he underwent back surgery, but he returned in 2009 and continued to roll up the ranks – finishing the season in the Class A Midwest League. He then continued on with a very strong 2010 season, where he reached the Class Advanced A Florida State League and posted a 1.93 ERA with 66 strikeouts over 74.2 innings there. In 2011 he began at Double-A New Britain in the Eastern League and again continued to excel. He made the jump up to Triple-A later that same year and, eventually, he even got his first call-up to the big show, where he made four starts for the Twins.
Clearly, Hendriks has an outstanding minor league track record and he has brought that success over to Triple-A Buffalo this season. Over his six starts (and eight total games) for the herd this season, Hendriks has compiled a tidy 1.51 ERA to go along with 33 strikeouts over 41.2 innings. Putting aside the declining strikeout rate, what has been most exceptional about his performance this season has been his ability to limit free passes. Over those 41.2 innings, Hendriks has allowed only two walks, which gives him an insanely low 0.43 BB/9 for the season so far. While that ratio is certainly lower than expected, Hendriks has always been a strike thrower, as is evidenced by his career minor league BB/9 rate of 1.52.
But what kind of stuff does Hendriks bring to the table? John Sickels at Minor League Ball says he is a decently athletic pitcher who obviously excels with his command. His fastball clocks in anywhere between 87-92 MPH, but it sits mainly around 90 MPH and he does not look to overpower anyone with it. Instead, he compliments his strong fastball command with an arsenal of off-speed pitches – a curveball, slider, and changeup. According to John, the changeup is probably his best pitch, but both breaking balls are respectable, and all of his pitches play up due to his superior command.
Which leaves me to wonder if Hendriks could be an improvement on any of the other fringe pieces currently in the bullpen. Stroman is obviously going to be given a strong opporunity to stick in the majors so I won’t touch on him as a replacement candidate, but some others certainly have targets on their back. Hendriks ability to limit walks, hits, and homeruns would certainly look good in comparison to some of the outings Esmil Rogers has put together, and his skillset makes him somewhat comparable to Todd Redmond and Jenkins. Although Hendriks has had his own share struggles during his past major league tenures, perhaps now is the time to give him another opportunity. I think a job as a long reliever would be a great spot that could potentially open up for him, but who knows – with the way he has been performing as a starter for Buffalo he could even fit in as a starter for the Blue Jays (à la Aaron Laffey) if their rotation continues to struggle into the coming months.