Looking back we should have been even more worried when Mark Hendrickson was penciled into the starting rotation at the beginning of last season. The team knew exactly what they were getting in him, didn’t want him to be a starter, but the lack of alternatives forced the team to start a pitcher who had a 5.45 ERA as a starter the previous year in the NL East. When he was shelled in the 4th and 5th innings of games, they knew that would happen too and at the first opportunity shipped him to the bullpen. After making 7 starts in the first two months of the season, with an ERA approaching 6, things started to turn around with the left-hander serving as an excellent middle/long reliever when the young guns (and Guthrie) faltered early in games. Despite having to make 4 more starts late in the season and appearing in more games in a season (53) than he ever had in his career, Hendrickson finished with a 4.37 ERA and was one of the most reliable relievers for Baltimore in 2009.
After leaving without a new contract after the season, the Orioles simply waited the market out, as Andy MacPhail so likes to do. Hendrickson and Baltimore expected to reunite at some point, though as the months went on it became a bit questionable as to whether he might be back or not. Without garnering much attention from other clubs, Hendrickson came back in February for $1.4 million.
Despite the presence of Hendrickson in the bullpen and another lefty in Mike Gonzalez as a closer, it is understandable why the Orioles have pushed to add another left-handed specialist. Most lefty relievers are classified as specialists for whatever reason, but Hendrickson doesn’t appear to have any discernable advantage against right-handed or left-handed batters, who hit .282 and .275 against him, respectively. There may have been a slight advantage against lefties, but if you are looking for an out, don’t try to pit Hendrickson on their best lefty and expect perfection. Moreover, it wouldn’t make sense to have a pitcher capable of going for 2 or 3 innings to come in for a one or two batter situation. What makes Hendrickson valuable is his versatility, but he has to be used wisely.
Despite the lack of free agent interest, Mark Hendrickson is still the kind of pitcher that every team likes to have in their bullpen- a below-average yet still serviceable starter, a quality relief arm, and a lefty all wrapped up in one. Too often you see teams using their young, borderline major league talent in this role to “ease” him into the majors, which results in watching a player’s growing pains and inconsistency at the most inopportune moments. With young players you never know what to expect, and they need a rhythm in order to get comfortable. Moreover, one needs this player to be versatile enough to start one day and pitch in relief a couple days later. In an era of increasingly specialized relievers- set-up, closer, middle relief, long relief, etc, a player who is capable of playing multiple roles is truly special.
He may not be lights out with any of his pitches and he may not put up incredible numbers, but he is the type of player the Orioles need right now. With all of the uncertainty still remaining in the pitching staff and inevitable growing pains yet to come, I am glad the O’s can hand the ball to Hendrickson if the wheels start coming off.