Hendriks eyes return to bigs with new team

* RHP Liam Hendriks (pictured) was dealt -- along with C Erik Kratz -- by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Kansas City Royals on Monday in exchange for INF Danny Valencia. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors … Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent

By Alexis Brudnicki

Buffalo, NY – Liam Hendriks was just a few innings away from the crown.

On Monday night, the Buffalo Bisons' right-hander was traded by the Toronto Blue Jays – along with backup catcher Erik Kratz – to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for infielder Danny Valencia, leaving the pitcher just short of winning the title for having the best earned run average in the International League.

“It’s a good break for those guys,” Bisons hitting coach and Monday’s acting manager Richie Hebner said. “Hendriks pitched well. Someone said he needed five more innings to win the ERA here. Well, he’s not going to get five more innings.

“He’s not going to lose any sleep over that, going to the big leagues. And Kratz, that’s a good break for those two – anytime you can leave triple-A and go to the big leagues, and they’re going right to Kansas City.”

Though the Royals announced that the former Bisons backstop would be added to the active roster in time for their series against the Minnesota Twins – the Aussie hurler’s long-time organizational home – beginning on Tuesday, Hendriks had yet to learn whether he would be joining his teammate or making his way to triple-A Omaha.

“Obviously I hope to go to Kansas City, but we’ll see how it goes,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m not sure of their pitching needs. I know that would be good if I can go back up there because they play the Twins shortly so that would be a good opportunity.

“Hopefully I can get into a game against them, which would be nice, but I’m just going to take it as it comes and play it by ear for now. I haven’t heard too much, I’m just waiting to hear from them and see where it takes me.”

Even with the trade deadline approaching and the Blue Jays openly active on the market, the International League all-star had no idea that he could be leaving as a potential piece for another club.

“It caught me off guard a little bit, but I think it’s going to be exciting, a new experience,” Hendriks said. “They haven’t told me where I’m going yet, but I know my wife and I are pretty excited to try to start it again and see how this goes. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Royals organization, so I’m pretty excited.”

After a whirlwind off-season that saw Hendriks change organizations several times from Minnesota to the Chicago Cubs to the Baltimore Orioles and then to Toronto, the righty is looking forward to another fresh start, though this time there won’t be as many familiar faces as there were in his last transition.

“Coming to the Blue Jays was a little bit easier than going to the Orioles,” Hendriks said. “The Orioles, I didn’t really know too many people so everybody was brand new. Coming to the Blue Jays I knew a couple of the guys, I played against them, and Anthony Gose actually lived at my house [in Australia when we were teenagers], so that actually made it a little bit easier.

“Now going to the Royals, the only player I did know there was the one who’s coming the other way [Valencia], so it’s going to be a whole new environment. Hopefully, if it’s the Royals, I’ve spoken to a couple guys there previously, playing against them when I was with the Twins and stuff like that, so at least I’ll have a little bit of a rapport with them.

“But if I go to Omaha, I haven’t even looked at their roster or anything like that. You walk in, you try and be as friendly as you can, and hopefully they’re friendly back.”

Hendriks will be sorely missed in the Bisons rotation as the team looks to continue its climb up the divisional ladder. Buffalo loses one of its most consistent arms, as the righty has gone 8-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 18 games and 16 starts this season over 108 1/3 innings. Astonishingly, he’s allowed only seven walks, while fanning 91 batters.

“I’ve been doing well here,” he said. “Hopefully I can continue the way it’s going and continue getting ahead of guys and putting them off balance. That’s pretty much all I can do. I’m going to go there and show them what I can do and hopefully it gets me up to Kansas City and we’ll see how it goes.”

This year in the minors has been a vast improvement on what Hendriks has done over the past couple of seasons, in particular during his time in the Twins organization with now-former Bisons teammate and outfielder Darin Mastroianni, who is most impressed by the low number of free passes Hendriks has issued.

“That’s a huge help,” Mastroianni said. “It keeps the game going, keeps the pace of the game up. It’s brutal when you’re out there and guys are walking people and taking forever to throw pitches. Liam used to have a problem with that when I played with him a couple years ago.

“He took forever to pitch, but right now he’s getting the ball, firing strikes, commanding the zone, attacking hitters, and that’s why he’s having such a great year.”

Hendriks responded: “He caught me in some bad stints, when I was either in Minnesota, when I wasn’t doing all that well, or when he caught me last year when I didn’t have a very good year. But I’ve picked up the pace a lot, attacked more, and as soon as you get ahead it puts them on the back foot a little bit.”

In three starts with the big-league club in Toronto this season, Hendriks posted a 6.08 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with four walks and eight strikeouts, though his final outing as a Blue Jay – in which he gave up six runs in just 1 2/3 innings – marred his season line.

“It’s a very small sample size,” Hendriks said. “You take out one bad outing and I’ve been doing alright up there. Once I get up there and get into a routine it’s a bit easier, but it’s been up and down…In the first two starts I got into a routine, went pretty good and [then] just the day up in Cincinnati didn’t go my way.

“Even that one, I gave up a couple of hard-hit balls and a couple of bleeders that defined that outing. Hopefully I get back up there and can turn in another couple starts like the first two I did.”

Excited for what awaits him in a new organization, Hendriks is the slightest bit wistful to leave the environment in Buffalo right now.

“The coaching staff has been great here and this is probably one of the most fun clubhouses I’ve ever been in,” he said. “I’m going to miss a lot of the guys here. They’ve been a fantastic influence on what everybody and what this team has done this year. It’s going to be disappointing to leave, but I’m excited to start this next part of the journey.”

The feeling is mutual.

“He’s done a huge job for us all year,” Bisons pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “He’s been our front-line guy all year and he continues to throw the ball well. I wish him all the best. He’s been great on the team and everything and hopefully his success continues.”

Added outfielder Kevin Pillar: “It’s definitely a huge loss to the team. Every time Liam takes the mound we know if we get a couple runs early it’s going to be a pretty good game for us. He keeps the fielders in the game because he doesn’t walk guys and he pounds the zone and he’s been lights-out for us. He keeps us in every game he throws and you look forward to his start every fifth day…

“It’s a huge loss, but at the same time you understand it’s a business and all of our goals are to get to the big leagues, whether it’s with our organization or another organization. I couldn’t be happier for Kratz, [too]. I just found out his locker was empty when I came back and he’s worked hard and deserves it.”

Currently making his way from one clubhouse to another, perhaps with his catcher and perhaps not, Hendriks is excited.

“Obviously, out of the amount of names and stuff like that, they chose mine,” he said. “Which is a huge honour. Hopefully I can go there and prove to them that it was worth it and get back up to the big leagues.”

-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis