Hendriks, Axford and Madson combine to preserve Neal's lead
By Mark Chiarelli
OAKLAND -- Liam Hendriks averted trouble, stranding Jonathan Schoop at third base in the sixth inning Tuesday night to preserve a 2-1 A's lead, the same score they'd eventually win by.
He could exhale, if for only a brief moment. With no one warming in the A's bullpen, Hendriks would be asked to pitch the seventh inning. Waiting for him were Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo.
So Hendriks stuck to his routine. While Oakland batted, he wrapped his arm in a towel and retreated back through the tunnel leading behind home plate and up the stairs into the Coliseum clubhouse. He grabbed a water bottle, relaxed, then headed back to the dugout where he began to stretch with two outs in the inning. He hoped runs would come. They did not, and he headed back out with a one-run lead.
"You don't want to get too cold," Hendriks said. "You don't want to get too amped up. I don't want to lose it when I'm on the mound.
"That's the tougher part of their lineup. You have Machado who is hitting .300 with a bunch of homers; you have Chris Davis who is always a threat; and you have Trumbo who is setting the world on fire this year. To be able to throw quality pitches against those guys is huge."
Hendriks sent them down in order, striking out Machado, getting Davis to ground out to first and striking out Trumbo on what he said were the three best sliders he's thrown this season. Hendriks bounced off the mound, turned slightly and yelled while pumping his fist.
He has been at the forefront of a quiet surge from the A's bullpen in the second half of the season. Oakland relievers have a 2.22 ERA since the All-Star break, and have done it despite not having Sean Doolittle and Fernando Rodriguez in setup roles.
Hendriks has a 2.06 ERA in 21 games since coming off the disabled list June 19, after posting an 8.27 ERA prior to this stretch.
"Liam has been pressed into a little bit different role based on performance," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It's been extremely impressive for a guy that earlier in the year might have had some command issues and you're worried about him maybe walking a guy, but he's coming into situations now where he has to be perfect and he's pitching as well as he has all year."
John Axford pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Ryan Madson saved his 24th game. The A's bullpen allowed one hit, preserving former bullpen-mate Zach Neal's second win. Oakland desperately needed to string together quality starts and it's gotten them the last three games behind Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman and Neal.
It has allowed Melvin to utilize a strength -- the bullpen -- in more favorable situations, and he's turning to Hendriks more often. The righty also inherited a bases-loaded jam Sunday against the Cubs with no outs and wasn't charged with a run.
He's becoming a viable, confident option at the back end of the bullpen, and proved it again Tuesday.
"I think it's one of those things that I'm starting to get more comfortable on the mound with everything around here," Hendriks said. "And I think they're starting to get more confidence in me. It's good. Hopefully I can keep rewarding them by putting up zeros."
Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.