New Orioles right-hander Liam Hendriks doesn't have very many fond memories of Baltimore.
The 24-year-old Australian started for the Minnesota Twins in the Orioles' home opener last season and saw an early three-run lead disappear quickly. He lasted just 4 2/3 innings and watched from the dugout as Chris Davis hit a grand-slam to give the Orioles a 9-5 win.
That probably still doesn’t compare to the beginning of Hendriks' 2012 season in Baltimore. He had pitched well in the spring, going 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA to earn a rotation spot. But he came down with food poisoning the night before Opening Day and was hospitalized for four days in Baltimore, forcing him to miss his first start.
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Adding to his tough luck against the Orioles, Hendriks was forced from his final spring training start last year after 2 2/3 scoreless innings after a comebacker by Brian Roberts hit him on his right hand.
The Orioles claimed Hendriks off waivers from the Chicago Cubs on Dec. 23, just 10 days after he was claimed by the Cubs. After pitching in the Twins organization for his entire career, Hendriks hopes he can find a home in Baltimore.
“It was a little strange,” Hendriks said of being on three different teams in a two-week span. “I actually found out I had been picked up by the Orioles through a text message from one of my friends who lives in Maryland. I was in Canada at the time, so I had no service, but I got a thing through iMessage saying congratulations on being picked up by the Orioles. I was kind of confused until I found out about it. It was a bit irritating for my sister. She went out and bought my dad a bunch of Cubs stuff, so she was a little disappointed. But everyone’s excited. It’s a new opportunity for me, and I should come in here and make the most of it.”
Hendriks attended last week’s minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., on his own -- he spends part of the offseason just south of there in Fort Myers -- so he could meet Orioles manager Buck Showalter and new pitching coach Dave Wallace and new bullpen coach Dom Chiti.
When the Orioles claimed Hendriks, executive vice president Dan Duquette said that he liked the control that Hendriks showed in the minor leagues -- he had a 4.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season in Triple-A and has a 4.73 mark throughout his minor league career.
That hasn’t yet translated to success in the major leagues, however. Hendricks is 2-13 with a 6.06 ERA in 156 major league innings over parts of three seasons with Minnesota.
Last season, Hendriks was sent to Triple-A after just two April starts and didn’t return until August. While he worked in the rotation until mid-September, his last two outings of the season were out of the bullpen.
“I think it’s just really feeling comfortable,” Hendriks said. “I went through a couple phases when I was up in the big leagues with the Twins, and I wasn’t quite feeling comfortable. My last two outings last year, I really started feeling comfortable. I started throwing harder, and I started being able to locate my pitches a little bit more, and I think it was more about lengthening my stride a little bit.
“That definitely helped, and I think it’s going to help my lower body as well. Just by lengthening it a bit, I felt like there wasn’t strain towards the end. So just coming into camp and lengthening my stride out, and try to make sure that everything is flowing and I start feeling comfortable on the mound. When I’m comfortable, I feel like I can pretty much put the ball where I want to.”
Hendriks likely will start at Triple-A Norfolk in the starting rotation this season, but he has pitched well in spring training over the past two seasons, making the Twins' Opening Day rosters both years.
I couldn’t help by ask Hendriks -- who is from Perth, Australia -- if he knows fellow countryman Grant Balfour well.
“I’ve met him once or twice,” he said. “I’ve met his dad a few more times. His dad [former Sydney Blue Sox general manager David Balfour] was the GM for one of the Australian Baseball League teams. I’ve met his dad a few times. I’ve met Grant once or twice, but I don’t know him all that well.
“It’s interesting how it all worked out, him not coming,” Hendriks said. “It seemed like four or five days later I was coming here. I don’t know if the Orioles were dead set about having an Australian with them or what.”