MINNEAPOLIS — Liam Hendriks hoped his impressive results in Triple-A Rochester would carry with him after his promotion to the Twins.
Not so much.
Hendriks got the start Saturday for Minnesota, his first outing after being recalled and first start for the Twins since May 2. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up five runs (two earned) on eight hits — including three home runs — as the Twins lost 6-2 to visiting Milwaukee.
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Before his demotion, Hendriks was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four starts with Minnesota. In Rochester, he seemingly had things turned around. He went 5-0 with a 1.94 ERA in seven starts with the Red Wings, including a complete game shutout. While in Rochester, Hendriks struck out 42 batters and walked 13 in 46 1/3 innings, earning him a call-up back to the majors.
But that success on the mound didn’t follow Hendriks to Minnesota. He fell behind hitters early and often on Saturday. When he did throw strikes, he left them too far over the plate — and the Brewers hitters made him pay.
“I come away frustrated at the fact that I was throwing so well down in Rochester and I come back up here and get another chance and don’t put out my best foot,” Hendriks said. “Today wasn’t my greatest outing. I was getting behind guys, and they were taking advantage of it.”
Hendriks allowed two runs in the second inning on a two-out single by Norichika Aoki. Both runs were unearned, however, as second baseman Jamey Carroll couldn’t handle a grounder by Taylor Green earlier in the inning. Green and Weeks came around to score on Aoki’s base hit.
One inning later, Hendriks ran into the hot bat of Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, who jumped on a 3-2 offering from Hendriks and hit it to the opposite field for his 18th home run of the season. On the very next pitch, Aramis Ramirez followed suit with a solo homer to left off Hendriks.
“I was just trying to get one over,” Hendriks said of the Ramirez at-bat. “It wasn’t that bad of a pitch, but he put a real good swing on it. It was a little up. I hung it a little bit and he put it in the stands.”
Hendriks faced Braun one more time in Saturday’s game, and the result was a familiar one. Braun crushed a 1-1 slider from Hendriks and tagged it for a solo homer to straightaway center field, putting the Brewers up 5-1. But it came after Carroll’s second error of the game when he couldn’t corral a foul ball down the first base line. It gave Braun another chance, and he responded with another homer.
“We missed the play a couple times, but the pitcher needs to work around those things, too,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
It was Braun’s second home run of the day and third so far this series as he’s single-handedly tormented Minnesota’s pitchers.
“He’s a strong guy. He knows what he’s looking for,” Gardenhire said of Hendriks. “… He fights off some pitches and finally gets to a pitch that he can do something with. He’s a really smart hitter and a very strong hitter with a very quick bat.”
Hendriks said he was trying to leave a slider off the plate with the hope that Braun would chase it. Instead, the pitch caught too much of the plate and Braun hit it 419 feet.
“He’s swinging the bat as good as I’ve seen it,” Hendriks said of Braun. “I threw him a 3-2 fastball that was a little bit up and a little bit over the plate, which he hit pretty hard, and then threw a slider which I didn’t get it off the plate enough. I was trying to get it away off the plate for a ball, and I left a little bit over and he took a good swing on that one as well.”
Minnesota’s starting rotation remains a weak spot this season. After seemingly getting (slowly) back on track, the Twins’ starters are again taking a step back. Not helping the situation is the fact that P.J. Walters was recently placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Veteran right-hander Carl Pavano is also on the DL. For all intents and purposes, left-hander Scott Diamond has been the only reliable starter to date this season.
The Twins were hoping Hendriks’ minor league success would translate to the big leagues and help solidify their rotation. That wasn’t the case Saturday, and Hendriks is still searching for his first major league win after nine career starts.
“I was feeling really strong down there (in Rochester),” Hendriks said. “Today I didn’t feel quite as good. It’s one of those things where it just wasn’t my best day and I need to work on that for next time.”