On Thursday night, the Minnesota Twins showcased two of their potential starters for their remaining rotation vacancy – Liam Hendriks and Cole Devries. Together, the pair silenced the Yankees’ bats over eight innings, allowing just one unearned run over eight innings.
Of course, spring training is not about the results but the process. For Hendriks, that process included peppering in more non-fastballs. As was discussed during the Fox Sports North broadcast, the Twins staff were looking for Hendriks to mix in more of his secondary offerings after he became what they felt was too reliant on his fastball during his last outing.
“It was coming out of my hand well,” Hendriks told reports afterwards. “Curveball was good. Mainly slider to the righties, curveball to the lefties."
Perhaps Hendriks’ biggest issue right now is his inability to shut down right-handed hitters. Last year, lefties slapped him around to the tune of .768 OPS. Righties, meanwhile, torched him with a 1.020 OPS. Among starters with a minimum of 30 innings against right-handed hitters, Hendriks’ .351 batting average was the highest in baseball.
Against righties, he is a two-pitch pitcher, arming himself with a fastball and a slider. The slider, up to this point in his career, has been a detriment to his success. According to BaseballProspectus.com’s leaderboard, Hendriks’ slider created the lowest percentage of outs in baseball last year. His slider had “put away” just 4.1% of hitters on the times it was thrown, making it terribly ineffective. C.C. Sabathia, a Yankee sitting across the field from Hendriks yesterday, managed to retire 32% of his opponents on that pitch – the highest rate in baseball. It does not take a math major to realize there is a huge chasm between the results of Sabathia’s offering and the one Hendriks spins.
Did we learn anything new from this most recent spring start? Probably not. After all, the Yankees only threw out three right-handed hitters against Hendriks: Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Francisco Cervelli. A literal non-Murderer’s Row of Yankee sluggers.
Nevertheless, to his credit, with the exception of the fourth-inning walk to the shaved Youkilis, Hendriks did his job – none of the aforementioned righties reached base.
I’ve cited several times over that one of Hendriks’s biggest issues is his slider and the coaching staff likely recognizes this as well. During his last bullpen session prior to the start, the 24 year-old struggled with his secondary offerings’ location.
“During my bullpen, during my offspeed, I could not locate a single thing,” Hendriks told reporters. “It was disgraceful. [Anderson] said ‘Stay back, stay relaxed.’”
Unquestionably, the curveball looked sharp. He maintained a strong 12-to-6 break with this pitch and kept the Yankees’ left-handed unit at bay, one that included renowned sluggers like Travis Hafner and World Baseball Classic winner, Robinson Cano. Hendriks’ fastball command helped set up that giant breaking ball and kept the lefties off-balanced for the duration of his outing. But there were occasions in while he seemed to lack the confidence in that pitch.
During an early battle with Hafner, the Aussie held a 2-2 advantage but shook catcher Drew Butera off twice before throwing a fastball (a ball) and then followed it up with a second fastball (fouled off) before missing with a curve. The shake-off could have been a cat-and-mouse game of shaking off a fastball only to set up Hafner for the fastball still, however, his admittance of command issues of his breaking stuff in his recent pen session only seems to reaffirm the notion that Hendriks shook off a curve.
If 2012 has any bearings on it, Hendriks has demonstrated that he shies away from his breaking stuff when he is ahead of the hitters. Look at his pitch breakdown from BrooksBaseball.com from last year:
What Hendriks needs is more confidence in his secondary pitches. He pitches backwards by throwing his non-fastballs out-front but he fails in the sense that he does not have a put-away pitch. Spotting his fastball will only get him so far. And, to this point in his career, that has meant success at Triple-A.
With Samuel Deduno making a strong case for one of the two positions open in the rotation, the race is tightening between Hendriks and Devries.
Nick Nelson continues his series on the Twins’ positions, examining the left field spot today.
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