White Sox’s Hendriks returns from cancer, pitches eighth vs. Angels

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

CHICAGO (AP) — Not long after Liam Hendriks was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the All-Star closer set an ambitious goal for himself. He wanted to return to the Chicago White Sox before the end of May.

He made it — with a couple days to spare.

Hendriks worked the eighth inning Monday night against the Los Angeles Angels, marking another memorable moment in his recovery from cancer.

“What he’s done and how he’s done it has been remarkable,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “It’s an inspiration to everybody on this club, it’s an inspiration to everybody who follows the game and knows of Liam.”

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The crowd of 23,599 roared when Hendriks walked out to the bullpen after the fourth inning, and a group of fans held up letters that read “TEAM LIAM.” When he came in to pitch the eighth, jogging through the outfield under his usual light show at home, he was greeted with a standing ovation.

Hendriks stood behind the mound and soaked in the scene as the crowd cheered. The Angels also applauded, and Matt Thaiss waited before stepping into the batter’s box, giving Hendriks more time to appreciate the moment.

“It was great being back out there,” Hendriks said. “Getting back, putting cleats on, running out, doing all that. I felt good, I felt strong, I felt comfortable out there. Unfortunately for me, I just wasn’t able to get the two-strike pitch where I wanted to.” 

The Angels scored two runs on Zach Neto’s sacrifice fly and Mike Trout’s RBI single, but the crowd still cheered as Hendriks walked to the dugout when the inning was over.

“There was some positives from a purely baseball aspect, but there was definitely some things to work on,” Hendriks said after Chicago’s 6-4 loss.

Hendriks’ return was heralded all over the sport. Jameson Taillon and Trey Mancini of the crosstown Chicago Cubs — two more cancer survivors — were among the players who texted Hendriks during the day, and the Toronto Blue Jays — one of the pitcher’s former teams — posted a supportive video on Twitter.

Angels manager Phil Nevin tracked down the quirky right-hander to pass along his regards before the series opener.

“It’s great to see him back. He’s been through a lot. Wish him luck in a few days,” a grinning Nevin said.

Hendriks was reinstated him from the 15-day injured list. Fellow reliever Jimmy Lambert was placed on the 15-day IL with right ankle inflammation.

The 34-year-old Hendriks had no record and a 10.80 ERA in six rehab appearances with Triple-A Charlotte. The Australia native allowed one run and one hit in one inning in his last game with the Knights on May 16.

Hendriks could provide a big lift for a Chicago team that has struggled for much of the season. The White Sox (22-34) were coming off a tough series in Detroit, blowing late leads on Saturday and Sunday while dropping three of four against the Tigers.

Hendriks has 115 saves and a 3.81 ERA over 12 seasons with Minnesota, Toronto, Kansas City, Oakland and Chicago. He signed a $54 million, three-year deal with the White Sox in January 2021.

“Truly a testament to his hard work and commitment the fact that we’re even having this conversation in May,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “When we initially got the initial prognosis, I don’t think anyone would have been shocked if the response to a stage 4 lymphoma diagnosis was we weren’t going to see the guy pitch this year. Or if we initially announced ‘Hey, he’s probably going to be gone till at least the All-Star break,’ I don’t think anyone would have batted an eye with that timeline.”

Hendriks led the American League with a career-high 38 saves in his first year with Chicago. He was third in the majors with 37 saves and made his third All-Star team in 2022, but he noticed some lumps on his neck last summer.

He was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma and underwent immunotherapy and chemotherapy. He announced in April that he was in remission.

Hendriks’ wife, Kristi, said baseball played a key role in his comeback.

“When you are having all this poison pumped into your body, the last thing you feel is normal,” she said. “It was great for him too to have the camaraderie with his teammates. He got to, you guys know Liam, he’s a goofy, random man. And he’s weird. He felt like he was part of his people again. I think that if he didn’t have baseball, his recovery would have been very different.”

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