By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
Fourteen starts, zero wins---that’s the career summary thus far for Liam Hendriks. The 23-year old Australian---holder of a 38-20 record in the minor-leagues---has now gone a near calendar year without recording a victory at the major-league level. His most recent defeat: a one-run, nine inning performance Monday night, in which he was bested by Felix Hernanedez’s complete-game shutout.
Hendriks has just a month left to avoid “pulling a Slowey,” in reference to Kevin Slowey’s historically winless record last season with the Twins. While Slowey was dealt to Colorado in the offseason, it’s unlikely the Twins will give up on Hendriks, their 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
However, the 0-for-career mark is starting to look more like a trend than a mirage. Hendriks has only finished seven innings twice: his first career start last September and Monday night against Seattle; by far his best effort.
Taking nothing away from Hendriks’ gem on Monday, the right-hander has had a few too many blow-up games and not enough quality starts (four of 14). He’s given up five or more runs in a start five different times, while not pitching beyond the fifth inning in half his outings. Part of the problem can found in Hendriks’ tendency to allow a lot of fly balls.
In nine of his 14 starts, Hendriks has given up more fly balls than ground balls, but in 11 of those 14 starts, he coaxed just zero or one pop-up. That means a lot of balls are leaving the infield, and, based on the win-loss mark, finding gaps and leaving the ballpark. Hendriks has surrendered 11 home runs in 52.1 IP in 2012 and has the third worst home runs per nine inning average of the team’s starters this season (behind Blackburn and De Vries). To put that in perspective, rookie Scott Diamond has allowed more fly balls than ground balls in just five of his 20 starts this year.
Hendriks has kinks to work out, but it’s not fair to call him a bust yet. The Perth native has blown through the minors, putting up a gaudy 4.82:1 K/BB ratio. He combines his impeccable control with a healthy arsenal that includes a deceptive fastball and a handful of complementary breaking pitches. Monday night was the first time we’ve seen every cog working together at the same time, and it was a masterful thing to behold.
Despite taking the loss, Hendriks proved to 32,000 fans at Target Field that he can be a bonafide MLB starter and live up to the hype coming out of Rochester. If there’s one intangible about Hendriks that can get him over the hump, it’s his confidence. The right-hander was even quoted as saying he could get better after his complete game effort on Monday.
While any improvement on his last start would have to be near perfection, Hendriks will take the ball against the Royals on Saturday, looking for that elusive first win. Hopefully he can pick up the victory and Kevin Slowey can pop the champagne.