MINNEAPOLIS — Liam Hendriks just can’t find that first Major League victory.
The Twins right-hander was hit with the loss Tuesday as Minnesota fell 3-0 to the visiting Chicago White Sox. It was Hendriks’ 11th career start over the past two seasons, and he fell to 0-7 in the majors with Tuesday’s defeat.
“Eleven and counting. I’m still searching for that No. 1, but it’ll come,” Hendriks said after his latest loss. “I’m not too worried about it. I’m just trying to keep throwing up quality starts and hopefully we can snag a couple.”
Hendriks gave up three earned runs on five hits Tuesday while striking out five and walking one. It was actually Hendriks’ best performance since his first start of the 2012 season, when he gave up one run in six innings in a 4-3 loss to Texas.
After going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in his first four starts, Hendriks was demoted to Triple-A Rochester. In his first two starts after his call-up, he was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in starts against Milwaukee and Pittsburgh earlier this month. Each of those starts lasted five innings, and he gave up eight hits in each.
Tuesday’s start was different. He was getting ahead of batters and using his fastball more than he did in his previous two outings.
The one mistake of the night for Hendriks came in the fourth inning, when he left a hanging slider to Alex Rios. Chicago’s right fielder jumped on the pitch and sent it 407 feet to the left field seats to drive in Paul Konerko for 2-0 White Sox lead.
It was the second home run Hendriks allowed to Rios in his career, as Rios also took him deep in Hendriks’ MLB debut on Sept. 6 of last year.
“That was a slider, which I think he’s got me in his books twice now on hanging sliders,” Hendriks said of Rios’ homer Tuesday. “I stand by the pitch. If it was down, he’s going to put the same swing on it and he’s going to hit a ground ball and hopefully get a double play out of it. I just hung it a little bit. It’s one of those pitches you’re not going to get back.”
After the homer to Rios, though, Hendriks retired the next eight batters he faced, thanks in part to a nice barehanded play by second baseman Alexi Casilla for the second out of the fourth inning. Hendriks retired the slide in the fifth and sixth innings.
“He battled,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Hendriks. “He threw a lot more fastballs tonight, threw some nice little breaking balls over to start a couple hitters and keep them off the fastball. He pitched hard in and knocked some guys back off the plate a little bit. He located the ball better. That keeps you in the ballgame when you’re able to locate the ball and it makes your other pitches work.”
The third and final run Hendriks allowed came in the seventh on a bloop single to right field by Chicago shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which scored Rios from second base. Rios reached after his grounder up the middle hit off Hendriks’ foot and bounced to Casilla, who had no play at first base.
At the time, the run made it a 3-0 White Sox lead. After Minnesota scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth on a Jamey Carroll single, that third run proved to be a big one as Chicago held on for the 3-2 win.
Still, despite the loss, Hendriks was happy with his performance Tuesday.
“I felt really comfortable out there,” Hendriks said. “I just need to remember what I did out there tonight and go out there and we can fare better next time.”
When Hendriks does take the mound again, he’ll do so still in search of that first career major league win. If and when Hendriks finally notches his first victory, he’ll be the second Twins pitcher to record his first career win this season. Right-hander Cole De Vries did so earlier this year.
But wins aren’t everything for a pitcher, and they’re not necessarily indicative of a pitcher’s performance on any given night. Such was the case for Hendriks, who pitched well enough to win Tuesday.
“I can’t afford to be anxious,” Hendriks said about his elusive first win. “I’m going out there and my goal is to put the team in a position to win. I feel like I did a pretty good job of that tonight.”