KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Right-hander Liam Hendriks will become just the third Australian ever to don a Royals uniform, following first baseman Justin Huber and left-hander Graeme Lloyd from years ago, but Hendriks really has no time to think about any of that.
Hendriks has been called upon for an emergency start tonight for the first-place Royals against the Minnesota Twins in yet another pivotal game in the Royals’ march toward their first playoff appearance in 29 years.
Hendriks, 25, says he understands the pressure he’ll be under.
"I’m excited to be a part of this," he says. "We’ve got a chance to make the playoffs. You got guys who’ve never been to the playoffs in 20 years in the bigs.
"I think it would be big for Kansas City and it would be big for baseball. It’s a resurgence here and it would be fun to be a part of it."
The Royals and their front office probably don’t view Hendriks’ start as a potential for "fun."
Hendriks was chosen to fill in for rookie Yordano Ventura (sore back) because he is a strike-thrower who has pitched in the big leagues before, albeit not so successfully (3-13, 6.06 ERA).
But it is vital that Hendriks perform at his highest level tonight as the Royals continue to try to ward off second-place Detroit.
"This time of year, you need everyone to step up and perform," general manager Dayton Moore says. "It doesn’t matter who that is. It’s about winning, and guys need to come in and do their job, whether you’re coming off the bench or coming up from the minor leagues."
Given his career numbers, Hendriks might seem like a curious choice by the Royals to start a game up here, especially during a playoff chase.
But Hendriks seemingly has turned a corner this season. In five starts at Omaha since being acquired from Toronto in the Danny Valencia trade, Hendriks was 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA. With Toronto’s Triple-A team in Buffalo, he was 8-1 with a 2.33 ERA.
"My pitching coach in Buffalo said I looked like a completely different pitcher this year," Hendriks says. "He said it looked like I had the edge that I had back in 2012 (9-3, 2.20 ERA in Triple A) when I was having success. I’m trying to just run with it, hopefully put together a few good outings here and put myself and the team in a good situation."
Hendriks has the usual fastball-slider-changeup repertoire, but a slight change in his mechanics has helped him achieve more velocity and more bite on his pitches. He has gone from the 88-91-mph range to 92-95.
"For some reason in spring training I started throwing harder from the set than from the windup," he says. "My pitching coach with Buffalo worked with me then to get a little more turn with my windup, and that’s helped get a little more action on my pitches. I’m driving more toward the plate, getting more movement.
"This year I’ve seen everything markedly go up a couple of miles per hour. That’s really helped. It’s really come together."
"I know that the last year they made the playoffs was when my wife was born," Hendriks says. "You can either take that as she’s really old or it wasn’t that long ago. I’d like to stay in her good graces, so I’ll say it wasn’t that long ago."