Liam Hendriks on what 'little gnat' Adam Eaton brings to White Sox lineup

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Vinnie Duber
·4 min read
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Hendriks on what 'little gnat' Eaton brings to Sox lineup originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox fans are gaga over new closer Liam Hendriks. They're still warming up to the idea of Adam Eaton returning to play right field.

But Hendriks is all for Eaton being a part of the White Sox lineup, mostly because it means he won't have to face Eaton anymore.

"There’s a lot of guys on this team I’m happy I don’t have to face again," Hendriks told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast, rehashing his relief that he won't have to figure out how to attack Yasmani Grandal anymore before getting to Eaton.

"For whatever reason, I get him 1-1, 2-2, and he’d just foul a bunch off and get a base hit. But I also think he had like a triple and two doubles in four at-bats, as well, so it’s not as if he’s getting cheapies.

"He’s the little gnat at the plate. He just kept fouling stuff off, fouling stuff off, fouling stuff off, get a pitch he can hit, whack. That was tough."

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That challenge of having to get Eaton out will no longer apply to Hendriks, but it's returned to bother pitchers in the American League now that Eaton has come back to the South Side.

Eaton has his own questions to answer now that he's back with the White Sox. He has to prove he can stay healthy, first and foremost, after playing just one healthy season during his four years with the Washington Nationals. But he also has to prove that the White Sox dysfunctional 2016 season, in which he played a role, is a thing of the past and that those kinds of issues won't pop up five years later.

If he can answer those two questions positively, then he figures to be a valuable addition to the lineup. When healthy, Eaton has been a consistent producer, both during his first stint on the South Side and after being traded to the nation's capital. During the Nationals' championship season in 2019, he batted .279 with a .365 on-base percentage in 151 regular-season games before coming through in clutch moments during the postseason.

What can he bring to the White Sox lineup?

Hendriks knows what kinds of challenges face opposing hitters now that Eaton has joined what was already one of the best lineups in the AL.

"Not only does (Eaton's batting style) make those at-bats tougher, it makes the rest of the lineup tougher," Hendriks said. "You look at (Nick) Madrigal, you look at (Tim Anderson), you look at Eaton, they’re all similar guys where they can do the same things. They’re all going to take good at-bats. If they get down in the count, they’re going to try to hit a single, take something the other way.

"And then they’re immediately before guys like (José) Abreu and (Eloy) Jiménez and (Luis) Robert and (Yoán) Moncada, the guys that can actually do the damage. So it’s a very hard lineup to navigate because you’ve got both guys who have high on-base percentages and guys who have a bunch of power.

"It makes it a lot harder, especially because Eaton can run, TA can run, I think Madrigal can run, I haven’t seen him too much. But you’ve got these guys out there who can all of a sudden change the game with pace. As soon as soon as there’s a guy who’s running on (base), that means you’re rushing to the plate, you’re not worrying as much about the hitter as you’re worrying about the runner. And when you’ve got a guy like Abreu or Jiménez, the big boppers, coming up, it only take one pitch and all of a sudden you’re down two, three runs and that could be the game right there.

"It’s a hard lineup to navigate because of all the different facets they’ve got."

Eaton figures to bat near the bottom of Tony La Russa's batting order, where Madrigal resided last season. With Anderson assumed to return to the leadoff spot, the White Sox could potentially throw three straight pests at opposing pitchers — with Eaton batting eighth, Madrigal ninth and Anderson first — before unleashing a string of run producers.

According to Hendriks, it's something those opposing pitchers won't be happy to see coming.

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