After being booed off the field at Dodger Stadium and demoted from the starting rotation to the bullpen in early September, the tallest Dodger hired noted Cal State Fullerton sports psychologist Dr. Ken Ravizza to get him back on track emotionally, after which the left-hander got himself back on track physically.
"I've gotten back to the way I was pitching before I got here," said Hendrickson, whose importance has suddenly become magnified by a freak injury to Joe Beimel. That hotel-room accident leaves Hendrickson the only left-hander in the bullpen for the National League Division Series against the Mets, a club loaded with left-handed hitters.
"My pitching coach in Tampa Bay, Mike Butcher, had recommended a mental coach even when I was back there. So, when things weren't working out, I contacted Ken and he's helped tremendously to get my mind right. Ken has given me exercises that have proved successful over here."
Hendrickson, at 6-foot-9, is one of 11 men to have competed in both Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. After a four-year career in the NBA, he was drafted for the sixth time by a baseball team, this time by Toronto. After the 2003 Winter Meetings, he was traded to Tampa Bay, where he was a double-digit winner the past two years. Hendrickson was 4-8 with a 3.81 ERA when he was traded to the Dodgers on June 27 with catcher Toby Hall for catcher Dioner Navarro and Jae Seo.
Hendrickson made 12 starts for the Dodgers, the last on Sept. 5. In those, he went 1-7 with a 5.07 ERA. He began working with Ravizza when he went into the bullpen, and had a 0.84 ERA in six relief appearances, allowing one earned run in 11 2/3 innings with 12 strikeouts and only six hits allowed.
Yes, said Hendrickson, the pressure of replacing the injured Brett Tomko in the starting rotation in a pennant race got to him.
"L.A. presents a lot more difficult things than Tampa Bay," he said. "The expectation level is so high, the atmosphere so intense. This is the first time I've been in a postseason run and all the pressure that comes with it. Ken's been such a great help for me, I'll continue with him beyond this year.
"You hear athletes say that 98 percent of this is from the neck up. I was at the point where I had to do things differently to get back on track to where I was in the early part of the year."
Kuo didn't go: Game 2 starter Hong-Chih Kuo has admitted that there were times during his five-year recovery from two Tommy John elbow operations that he considered giving up on the Dodgers and baseball.
It turns out, the feeling was mutual in some quarters.
"When I think back to the times when Kuo was really feeling down, I have to give credit to Dan Evans," Dodgers director of Asian operations Acey Kohrogi said about the former Dodgers general manager.
"Kuo was on the verge of giving up, and there were a lot of people in the organization who wanted to give up, too. But in 2003, Dan had Kuo chart pitches and rehab with the Major League team. At the time, a lot of people didn't understand why. But it allowed Kuo a chance to talk to pitchers who had gone through similar operations, like Darren Dreifort and Eric Gagne, and they were a big influence on him not giving up."
Lineup curveballs? Manager Grady Little said he most likely would start Kenny Lofton in center field in Game 2, even though the ageless Lofton is 0-for-11 lifetime against the Mets' scheduled starting pitcher, left-hander Tom Glavine.
"I know he's not riding with a lot of success against the guy, but this is the postseason and it's a different season," said Little. "We expect him to bust out."
Little said Brad Penny was available to pitch out of the bullpen in Game 1, but not Game 2, because he is the scheduled starter for Game 4 on Sunday, if necessary. Penny hasn't pitched since his Sept. 28 start in Colorado, which was halted after one inning because of a stiff back. Penny came out of a Saturday bullpen session in San Francisco healthy and will be starting on 10 days' rest.
"His back is not enough to make me think he can't go," Little said. "He felt good in San Francisco and felt good after. That's all I know."
Remember when... The Dodgers last played the Mets in the postseason? That was 1988, and the League Championship Series was an epic seven-game Los Angeles victory, all the more improbable because the Mets dominated the Dodgers in the regular-season series, 10-1.
Among other things, that series included: Mets pitcher David Cone providing bulletin-board material when he called Dodgers Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser "lucky"; Dodgers reliever Jay Howell ejected from a rainy Game 3 and later suspended for having pine tar on his glove; Mike Scioscia's stunning ninth-inning home run off Doc Gooden to send Game 4 into extra innings, and Kirk Gibson's 12th-inning homer to win it, with Hershiser coming out of the bullpen on no days' rest for the save; a rebound by Cone for a New York win in Game 6; and a clinching five-hit shutout by Hershiser in Game 7 to clinch the pennant.
In the booth: Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully will work the first and last three innings on KFWB 980 during the postseason, even though he generally does not travel to games east of Colorado. Rick Monday and Charley Steiner will call the middle innings. On the Spanish side on KWKW 1330, Hall of Famer Jaime Jarrin is joined by regular partners Pepe Yniguez and Fernando Valenzuela.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less