Tuesday marked a significant anniversary for Liam Hendriks. Not a happy anniversary, but an important one.
On June 25, 2018, the A's reliever was designated for assignment and ultimately outrighted to Triple-A.
"It was the fifth time I got DFA'd," Hendriks reminded NBC Sports California. "It wasn't just the first or the second, it was the fifth!"
The Perth, Australia native was 29 years old at the time and had spent eight years in the majors, including three with Oakland. He was still recovering from hip surgery and his struggles were undeniable with a mammoth 7.36 ERA. Still, the demotion was eye-opening.
"It was very humbling," Hendriks admitted. "I think I got a little complacent. I felt like my position was solidified, which it wasn't. Coming back from my hip injury, I had some battles going on there. But other than that, I think I went down there (to Triple-A) and was able to kind of find myself again."
Hendriks significantly increased his fastball velocity, which has lived in the high-90s since the end of last season. He pitched well for the A's last September, primarily in an opener role, allowing just two runs in 13 innings. However, he struggled in Oakland's Wild Card Game against the Yankees, allowing two earned runs in the first inning.
This offseason, the A's re-signed Hendriks to a one-year, $2.15 million contract, avoiding arbitration. The right-hander has made sizable improvements to his curveball and slider, in addition to his fastball, becoming a true three-pitch reliever.
"I've just been throwing a lot more breaking balls for strikes," Hendriks explained. "The fastball looks a little bit more explosive, but when I throw my slider and curveball for strikes ... I'm also using my curveball a lot more this year than I have in the past."
The difference has been staggering.
In 36 appearances this season, Hendriks is 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, recording 53 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.
"He's been terrific," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's come in throwing bullets. After we sent him down last year and he came back up, he found velocity through a different workout routine and playing long-toss. Next thing you know, he's throwing 97 miles an hour."
Added third baseman Matt Chapman: "He's been nails. He comes in, throws strikes, throws hard, and gets after it. I like when he gets out there."
Hendriks has climbed all the way up the A's bullpen's pecking order, from essentially an afterthought to Oakland's primary setup man. Now with Blake Treinen on the injured list, Hendriks has taken over the closer role.
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"I'm throwing the ball well right now," he said. "I'm just happy to be doing that. If it's in the ninth, it's in the ninth. If it's not, it's not. It doesn't change my mentality."
The way he's performing, that's just fine with the A's.