Hendriks benefiting from new mindset, mechanics
Right-hander continues solid spring with three-inning outing Tuesday vs. Rays
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Liam Hendriks looks back at the 2012 season, he sees two different versions of himself.
There was the confident pitcher who dominated at Triple-A Rochester with a 2.20 ERA in 16 starts, and then there was the unsure pitcher who struggled in the big leagues with a 5.59 ERA in 16 outings for the Twins.
But Hendriks feels he's past those problems that came during his time with the Twins last season, and is excited to prove he can be a solid starter at the Major League level after the success he's had in the Minors.
"It was more of a mindset issue," Hendriks said. "In the Minor Leagues, I felt like I could just get guys out, and then I'd come up to the big leagues and try to make a perfect pitch. And it's just not the way to go about things. So I think at the end of the season I was just pitching and not overthinking, and it paid off."
Hendriks also carried the weight of making his first 17 starts in the big leagues without recording a win. He finally got that first victory against the Indians on Sept. 19, and it remains his lone win in 20 starts with the Twins.
But Hendriks did pitch better late in the season, posting a 4.07 ERA over his last four outings to head into the offseason with some confidence. And Twins manager Ron Gardenhire took notice about the change he saw in Hendriks late in the year after his initial struggles.
"He didn't pitch aggressive enough in the big leagues," Gardenhire said. "He was pitching not to give up hits instead of pitching to get outs, and there's a difference. And he understands that. Toward the end of the year, he attacked better. So it's just a process here."
It wasn't a perfect offseason for Hendriks, either, as he ended up feeling some discomfort in his elbow and had a bone chip removed from his right elbow in November.
Hendriks, though, was able to start his throwing program on time and has proved to be healthy this spring. He pitched well in his third start against the Rays on Tuesday, giving up two runs on four hits and a walk over three innings. He has a 3.38 ERA in five Grapefruit League innings.
The outing would've been even better if Josh Willingham didn't misplay a fly ball he lost in the sun with two outs in the second inning that led to both runs scoring. But Hendriks, showing his maturity, didn't blame Willingham after the game.
"It happens -- I was out there warming up and looked up and thought, 'I probably shouldn't give up a fly ball to left field,'" Hendriks said with a laugh. "It almost helped me. I got to work out of a few jams and pitch out of the stretch. The ball was coming out of my hand well, so I'll take that any day. I felt really good."
Hendriks has credited a change in his mechanics for his success this spring, as he has changed his leg kick to improve his balance and the movement on his pitches.
"My leg kick is not as high," Hendriks said. "I want to make sure I stay back and don't leak. It helps me to stay back. If I kick too high, I rotate a little bit and stay more closed. This helps me open up a little bit. But I still like to stay a little closed to add a little deception. So the lower leg kick just keeps everything in line, and so far I'm feeling really good and really strong."
Hendriks said he's felt better with each start this spring, and is happy with his results so far. He's battling for a spot in the rotation and could break camp for a second straight season, especially with left-hander Scott Diamond still trying to come back from his elbow surgery performed in December.
"This outing was really good," Hendriks said. "It was the best I've felt this Spring Training. I was able to locate my slider and my curveball. And the changeup was pretty good. So everything is coming along."