Hendriks on lethal 'pen: 'We just want to win'

Kimbrel, Kopech join All-Star closer to comprise MLB's most formidable back end

July 31st, 2021

CHICAGO -- had been part of the White Sox organization for approximately 24 hours when , the always entertaining All-Star closer for the South Siders, came up with a nickname for the overpowering high-leverage back end of the team’s bullpen.

“We’ve got the “Ponytail Gang” with [Michael] Kopech, Craig and myself,” said Hendriks with a broad smile, referring to their chosen hairstyles. “Mine is more of a man bun. Theirs is more of a ponytail.”

What the White Sox have is one of the top bullpens in all of Major League Baseball, the sort of bullpen built to win a World Series title. And let’s be honest: the move to acquire Ryan Tepera from the Cubs on Thursday and then the addition of Kimbrel from the North Side for second baseman Nick Madrigal and right-hander Codi Heuer on Friday is about winning championships with a focus on the 2021 crown.

Arguably the two best closers in the game resided in Chicago prior to Friday’s Trade Deadline, and they still are stationed there. But how will they be used?

Manager Tony La Russa has talked with all parties involved, revealing to the media whoever is closing on a particular day will know before the game, and some of that decision will be based on availability.

“It's not going to be a quarterback controversy. It's not going to be a closer controversy,” La Russa said. “It's going to be, ‘Let's get the outs and let's get a win, and let's keep going forward.’”

“We have no egos out there,” Hendriks said. “There’s no one who’s going to be angry on a diminished role or stuff like that. I don’t think any of us care. We just want to win.”

“Obviously we know what situation this is and what it looks like,” said Kimbrel, who arrived at Guaranteed Rate Field from Washington D.C. late in Friday’s series opener against the Indians. “But we also understand we've got jobs to do, and we can't let stuff like that get in the way of what our job is and that's to win ballgames and get this team where they need to be.”

Kimbrel, 33, lost his closer’s role as he struggled through a rough first two years with the Cubs. But he has been overpowering this season -- 23 saves and a minuscule 0.49 ERA over 39 games. During that time, Kimbrel fanned 64, walked 13 and allowed 13 hits of which only one was a home run.

Hendriks, 32, set a single-season high with his 26th save posted against the Indians on Friday. He has struck out 73 against five walks in 46 1/3 innings, with his lone slight blemish coming from eight home runs, entering Saturday.

One of those home runs came from Salvador Perez to tie the game in the ninth inning in Kansas City on Wednesday, but Hendriks was working at a different level when facing Cleveland. Part of that adrenaline rush came from José Abreu being hit in the side of the head by a James Karinchak pitch in the bottom of the eighth, with Hendriks fired up for his teammate, but another level came from a change he made on advice from his wife, Kristi.

“It looked like I was a little bit too complacent or not angry enough,” Hendriks said. “I took that and kind or ran with it a little bit. I recognized it as well. Sometimes you need to force it a little bit from the get-go.

“Everything that transpired last night helped along those lines. A little more aggression there, a little bit more attack-mode, which is what I needed to be.”

Remember this White Sox bullpen isn’t simply about Hendriks and Kimbrel. Kopech, pegged as a future starter, has been dominant in a setup role. The club also has southpaws Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet, and right-handers Tepera, José Ruiz and Reynaldo López.

They all will have an idea about their roles from game to game. But this alignment is about being at their best in October more so than the regular season.

“Because we all know how that goes: If we play seven games, you're going to pitch in all seven games,” Kimbrel said of playoff bullpen usage. “If we can get there healthy and this thing works out like it's supposed to, it's going to be fun.

“I'm excited to be a part of this team. Just the guys that are here, the weapons that this ballclub has, it's pretty special.”