Rehab timelines after Tommy John surgery vary, usually falling in the 12-18 month range. In Liam Hendriks’ case, an optimistic timeline puts him back on the mound in about a year. He had his surgery on the morning of August 2, so Hendriks can see a possible world where he’s pitching in the majors early next September.
In his mind, that’s a good and necessary thing. He wants to pitch at some point next season rather than treat all of 2024 as rehab, both because he wants to compete and also because his contract situation a year from now might make it useful.
“Depending on what happens contract wise, who knows if I’m going to need that little showcase at the end of the season to be able to get a job,” Hendriks said. “We’ll take that as it comes. That’s all I got. The plan is to pitch and we’ll see how it goes. It’s a wide range with one side being back in August and one side not being back at all.”
The White Sox have a $15 million club option for Hendriks next year, and if they pick it up, he won’t be an unrestricted free agent until 2025. Hendriks said he hopes to remain in Chicago and has made that desire known to the front office.
“The ball is in their court, obviously. I have an option for at the end of the year,” he said. “I have put it in their ears that I’d like to stay. I think I have unfinished business here and I feel I can, that’s why I wanted to rehab here. I petitioned to rehab with the team.”
A speedy recovery puts Hendriks back in a major league game as early as September 2 of next year. Assuming things do work out that way, Hendriks would have about a month to earn his next contract. Whether that is with the White Sox or another team is a different question, but he said he has no doubts that he will be able to return to the mound.
The 34-year-old has been pitching with some pain in his elbow for years, he said. He was sidelined last June for over two weeks with a forearm strain. Initially, this year’s injury was described as being the same as last season’s, but Hendriks said when he threw his last live bullpen session and felt pain while topping out at 92 miles per hour, he knew things were different this time.
“I realized my velocity was trending in the wrong direction and at that point there was nothing I could do to prevent what was going on,” Hendriks said.
Though it was the same tear that put him in the injured list last year, this time around the tear worsened and the surrounding muscles weren’t fully recovered from recuperating in 2022 from the injury. Hendriks said he was used to pitching with some pain in his elbow and had been doing it for most of his career, but this season it felt like it was beyond what he had grown used to.
If there’s a silver lining, what Hendriks has been able to do in his career with a bad elbow is remarkable. Assuming that he is able to recover and go through the rehab process successfully and return to the mound — in 2024 or later — having a brand new elbow could give new life to his career.
“At this point I’ll be pitching with a less than stellar elbow for 15 years, so having a new one out there hopefully I can add an extra couple of years on the back end,” Hendriks said. “I’ve always said I wanted to pitch until I was 40 and this means after this one I should be able to hopefully go longer than that.”
Hendriks has been kept away from the team for long stretches of this season because of his battle with cancer and his elbow injury. His absence has been felt on the field as Kendall Graveman and others had to step up to close games. Not having him at the back end of the bullpen changed the way many of the White Sox relievers were used.
Along with that, it could be the case that the Sox needed his presence as a team leader. On Sunday, former Sox reliever Keynan Middleton told Jesse Rogers of ESPN that there was a clubhouse culture problem in Chicago, and then Lance Lynn seemed to corroborate Middleton’s story.
Sox general manager Rick Hahn addressed the comments earlier this week, and manager Pedro Grifol admitted that some of the leaders he thought he had in the clubhouse didn’t live up to the role. None of that seems to apply to Hendriks, but if things were as bad as Middleton described and Lynn implied, having him around might have helped.
A cancer battle, elbow injury, surgery, and now rehab have kept Hendriks physically apart from the team for significant stretches of this season. But he’s back with the team now, and even though he can’t be the team’s closer, Hendriks is leading with an eye on the Sox future.
“He’s out there with (Gregory) Santos and all these young kids that are out there,” Grifol said. “I know he’s not just sitting there, I know he’s talking to those guys about the game, about preparation. He’s doing that right now.”
The disappointments of the last two seasons give Hendriks added fuel to get back on the mound in 2024. His contract situation is one thing, but as he said when he made his case to rehab with the team, he feels like he has more to accomplish in Chicago.