Monday, July 23, 2012

Hendriks lost in translation to big leagues

Twins fans have gotten a couple of different glimpses of Liam Hendriks since the September of last season. In that time at the big league level, the 23-year old pitcher has been less than underwhelming to the tune of an 0-7 record with an ERA of 6.71 in 12 starts. His struggles with the Twins have meant more than one trip back to Rochester this season after making the rotation out of spring training. The story of Hendriks with the Red Wings has been much different over the course of the 2012 campaign.

Before last night when Hendriks lost his first game of the season for Rochester, the right-handed pitcher had a perfect 7-0 record in ten games started at the Triple-A level. His ERA of 1.74 was nearly as perfect over the course of those starts with one bad start at the end of May accounting for six of the 15 earned runs that he has allowed. If you take out this terrible outing, Hendriks has an eye-popping 1.19 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 68.1 innings on the mound. He seems to have the game figured out at the Triple-A level but something seems to get lost in translation when he gets the call to the big league level. 

Throughout his minor league career, Hendriks has been known as a control pitcher because he doesn't have overpowering pitches to get batters out. He relies on throwing the ball around the edges of the plate to force batters into making mistakes. In the minor leagues, this approach has served Hendriks well because he moved through the system fairly quickly and he made his MLB debut as a 22-year old. His ability to avoid walking batters in the minor leagues has been a feat to behold and he continues to impress with his ability to avoid giving up home runs, especially for a control pitcher. 

The qualities that have made Hendriks valuable during each stop along the way in the minor leagues have been absent during his time as a big league player. His outstanding walk rate of 1.5 BB/9 on his way to the big leagues has ballooned to 2.3 BB/9 as a starter with the Twins. He has also given up an average of 1.9 home runs per nine innings in the big leagues and that number sits at around 0.3 HR/9 in the minors. While Hendriks was with the Twins, he was left searching for his first career win at the MLB level and the struggles have clearly been present over his limited sample size of 12 starts and 61.2 innings pitched. 

It is hard to know what to expect from the Twins and their pitching staff over the course of the next few months. The team seems to be giving plenty of opportunities to pitchers that have less up-side than Hendriks. Players like Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno are older than Hendriks and they looked like career minor league players before the season began. During their limited amount of starts this season, each of these players has shown some good and some bad signs but it seems that they will continue to get opportunities in a starting rotation that needs plenty of help. Most Twins fans hope that Hendriks can be more of a long-term option over the likes of DeVries and Deduno but only time will tell if this is true.

For next season, there are going to be plenty of openings for starting spots on the Twins roster. Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, and Scott Baker will all be free agents when the offseason arrives and this could leave some opportunity for other younger pitchers to step up and show that they belong with the big league squad. Out of the current members of the starting rotation, Scott Diamond and Nick Blackburn might be the two frontrunners for a spot in next year's rotation and Blackburn is far from being a lock. This leaves the remainder of this season as a try out for the rest of the untested pitchers and the coaching staff should get a pretty good look at each of these men.

Over the course of the next week, the Twins will most likely part ways with Francisco Liriano and this will leave another opportunity for a pitcher to emerge as a viable option in the rotation of the future for the Twins. Hendriks has done almost everything that he could at the Triple-A level and a call-up seems eminent at some point before the season is through. The Twins need Hendriks to find success at the major league level so the team can be comfortable penciling him into the rotation for the start of next season. It is up to Hendriks to find a way to translate his minor league success into respectable numbers at the next level. 

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