Aussie Hendriks flying high with the Blue Jays
BASEBALL: It wasn't long ago when Australian pitcher Liam Hendriks was looking over his shoulder wondering when his next game in the Major League would come.
This year, however, Hendriks well and truly has the respect and trust of his teammates at the high-flying Toronto Blue Jays, on a 10-game winning streak.
The former starter is enjoying his time in the bullpen, after his earned run average (ERA - measured over nine innings) in past stints at the Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals did not fall below five runs.
But after switching to a relief role in Toronto, the Perth native has produced some impressive figures so far in 2015, with an ERA of 2.47 over 47.1 innings pitched.
His velocity is also higher this year, and Hendriks puts that down to an off-season full of hard work.
"I did a lot of Pilates in the off-season, as well as lower-body and shoulder work," Hendriks told APN.
"As the season's gone on I've gradually been throwing harder, and now I'm more of a consistent 95 (miles per hour hour, or 153km/hr) guy.
"At the start of the year I was 91-93, and now it's up around 94-95, touching 97-98.
"That's where I want to be."
It's a far cry from his time at the Twins, when Hendriks produced ERAs of 6.17, 5.59 and 6.85 from 2011 to 2013, primarily as a starter.
"When I was at the Twins I was constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't going to be sent down to the minors, and it's not a way to survive in the big leagues," he said.
"At the start of the year I started off really well, and I just kept it going.
"I love the bullpen. For the most part I feel comfortable now."
Making Hendriks - a former junior All Australian in Aussie rules - feel even more comfortable in a foreign country is when he looks inside his locker.
"Let me see, I've got the Vegemite there. A lot of the guys aren't really interested in trying it," he said.
"The good thing about being in Canada is a lot of the stuff from back home they don't sell it in the States, but they sell it here.
"I've got my fix of Maltesers and Tim Tams, and my old man is bringing some Arnott's Shapes over.
"I found a place that sells meat pies just down the road."
And if Hendriks keeps up his solid form on the mound, he'll be able to afford plenty more meat pies in the future.
"If I stay in the big leagues I'll be with the Blue Jays for another four years after this one," he said.
"This year and next year I'm on minimum wage (a handy A$700,000), but the next three years after that I can start arbitration, which means I can start getting bigger deals."