Hendriks ends strong, looks to next season

MINNEAPOLIS — The 2012 season has been a roller coaster ride for Twins right-hander Liam Hendriks, but he ended it on a high note Sunday in his final start of the year.

Hendriks didn’t walk away from the game with a win, but he held the high-powered Tigers offense scoreless for seven innings before Detroit came from behind for a 2-1 win at Target Field. For Hendriks, Sunday’s performance came one start after he was shelled for six runs on eight hits against the Yankees earlier this week.

“You always want to finish the end of the year strong, and in my case, I’m trying to make a push for next year as well,” Hendriks said Sunday. “. . . Just to go seven innings against that sort of lineup and not give up any runs is huge.”

Hendriks finished the day with three strikeouts and two walks while giving up five hits. The 23-year-old limited the damage on Detroit’s five hits, including a pair of one-out doubles in the second and seventh innings. After Delmon Young got the Tigers’ first hit with a one-out double in the second inning, Hendriks got Andy Dirks to fly out before inducing an inning-ending groundout by Jhonny Peralta.

It was Dirks who hit a one-out double in the seventh, and Hendriks followed that up by walking Peralta. But Alex Avila flew out to right field and Omar Infante grounded out to end the inning.

Hendriks’ day — and his 2012 season — were done after that. He finished the year just 1-8 but lowered his ERA from 6.09 to 5.59 with his scoreless outing Sunday.

“A good way to end the year,” Hendriks said. “I had some struggles obviously throughout the year. My last couple of outings, I’ve really started to feel comfortable and attack the strike zone. It was definitely a good end for me.”

Despite his record, Hendriks has certainly had some highlights this season, and Sunday’s shutout performance was one of them. He earned his first big league win on Sept. 19 against Cleveland when he held the Indians to two runs on two hits in six innings.

It took him 18 games to finally get his first victory, but when he did, Hendriks could breathe easier.

“Obviously, I’d like a couple more than one win, but I’m glad I got the first one out of the way,” Hendriks said. “Now I can look forward to next year and move forward.”

Perhaps Hendriks’ best start of the year was one in which he earned a loss. He gave up just one run on three hits with a season-high six strikeouts in a complete game against the Seattle Mariners. Unfortunately for Hendriks, he was opposed by Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who pitched a complete game shutout against the Twins.

Hendriks finished the season with 50 strikeouts and 26 walks in 85-1/3 innings with the Twins. He also spent time with Triple-A Rochester this year and was 9-3 with a 2.20 ERA in 16 starts for the Red Wings.

Against a Tigers team inching toward winning the American League Central, Hendriks was solid. He left Sunday’s game amid a 0-0 scoreless tie. Minnesota scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the seventh on a base hit by shortstop Pedro Florimon.

Minnesota’s bullpen couldn’t protect the 1-0 lead, however, as Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder hit a two-run home run in the top of the eighth off reliever Jared Burton. Still, while Hendriks received a no-decision, his start was an encouraging sign.

“It was a big performance his last start of the year,” Gardenhire said. “Hopefully we can build off of that, get into spring training and see where he’s at and go from there. But that was a nice performance by him. I’m sure he’ll breathe a little bit easier.”

After an encouraging outing in his last start of 2012, Hendriks hopes all of his games pitched in 2013 will be at the major league level.

“I try not to look too much into it,” he said. “I’ve just got to get myself ready for spring training and come in and make a bang and make a push to make this team next year.”

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.