The White Sox placed Liam Hendriks on the injured list with right elbow inflammation back on June 11, and the more time passed without an update, the worse the news was likely to be.
Sure enough, nearly two months after he was shelved, the White Sox broke the bad news: Hendriks underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday morning, and he’ll be expected to miss between 12 and 14 months.
That gives everybody plenty of time to wonder whether the White Sox allowed Hendriks to ramp up too aggressively in his comeback from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
On one hand, Hendriks has pitched with a partially torn UCL for the last 15 years, so it’s not necessarily surprising that it would finally give way at age 34. On the other, while Rick Hahn called Hendriks’ comeback “perhaps the most thoroughly vetted return to play of any player in certainly my memory,” only to have Hendriks undermine it a few days later by saying his elbow had bothered him during his rehab assignment.
“It’s been sore for the last few weeks, ever since before my rehab assignment it was barking, but my mantra is to pitch things until I can’t,” Hendriks said Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. “It kept getting a little worse and worse and worse until the last couple of outings I wasn’t able to pitch through that pain.”
If you split the difference and say Hendriks could return in 13 months, that puts him back on the 26-man roster in September, the final month of his four-year deal. That’s if the White Sox exercise his $15 million option for 2024, rather than buying him out and deferring that money over 10 years. I don’t have a sense of which one the White Sox will choose, partially because of the emotions involved, and partially because if the White Sox insured his contract, it might make more sense to keep him on the books. I suppose this will be one of those decisions that Hahn — or “the people in charge” — will inform the media about at the end of the season.
Seeing the 12-to-14-month timetable reminded me that Garrett Crochet returned from his Tommy John surgery a little after 13 months, and it hasn’t gone so well. The White Sox reinstated him from the injured list on May 16, and then he was taken out of play on June 20 with left shoulder inflammation.
Crochet’s rehab stint from that injury was interrupted by a muscle strain in his left shoulder, so he’s not expected to start throwing again until the middle of this month.
Given that Crochet has missed time in each of the last three seasons, he wondered aloud last week whether starting would take less of a toll:
‘‘I feel like [a starter’s] routine is a better routine for me, based on the bumps and bruises that have been happening to me [in relief],’’ Crochet said. ‘‘I just want the opportunity to do it. If I can’t, I’m more than willing to go back into the reliever role. That’s been my dream from the start. I’d like to at least either prove to myself I can or can’t, and then I can be at peace with that.’’
Crochet has to be earnest about it, because he’s eligible for arbitration after the season, and transitioning to the rotation might require the Sox to option him to the minors for the first time in his career, which would delay free agency by a year. There’s also the two-pronged question about whether his body could handle throwing 80-plus pitches every five days, or whether he possesses the arsenal and command to face a lineup multiple times through.
I don’t really see the incentive for such an experiment on the White Sox’s side, especially now that Hendriks joins the traded Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly in being crossed off the 2024 bullpen (Reynaldo López is a free agent, so the Sox could sign him after the season if they cared to). The White Sox acquired three Double-A starters — Nick Nastrini, Ky Bush and Jake Eder — so the pitching forecast isn’t as arid as it was a week ago. Meanwhile, Aaron Bummer and Gregory Santos are the only fixture material in the bullpen, with six spots left to go.
All this assumes that the White Sox will try to run out a credible roster in 2024. If they’re punting that season with eyes on 2025, all bets are off, because all standards will be on hiatus.