Liam Hendriks’ return and a list of future MLB Hall of Famers you’ll surely agree with

This is a digital version of The Windup. Sign up here to receive this content directly in your inbox every morning. 

Turn off the field mics: Liam Hendriks’ return is imminent. Also, the Pirates are doing something right, we have a Hall of Fame discussion, and we look forward to this long weekend of games. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

You can hit but never break me

Liam Hendriks is nearing a return to the big leagues just under six months after being diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Today’s simulated outing may be his last before he returns to action. But there’s so much more to his story.

• The LEGO sets. Hendriks has a ton of ‘em. Each of the last two years, he has bestowed a Marvel-themed upon whoever has most recently struck out the side.

• Then there’s the Tarot card reader who helped him get his head straight in 2018 after being DFA’d for the fifth time. Between that and the inside joke motivator of “Tickets!” with first baseman Yonder Alonso (the best inside jokes never make much sense), the Australian went from being an up-and-down fringe guy to one of the game’s most dominant closers.

• The relentless trash-talking. Sometimes the most subtle burns are the best, and Hendriks yelling “How’d you hold that?!” when an opposing pitcher throws an awful pitch is on the razor-sharp edge of understated and vicious. Sometimes, it’s directed at himself, and it’s almost always profane (as we found out when his live mic was, in fact, working at last year’s All-Star game).

If you read one baseball story today, this should be it. Here’s hoping Hendriks is back on the mound hollering and swearing soon.

Ken’s Corner: The Pirates are all about restraint

Andrew McCutchen (Justin K. Aller / Getty Images)

A quote from Nathan Eovaldi on Tuesday night caught my eye. Eovaldi, after beating the Pirates with a six-hit complete game, praised their plate discipline.

“I knew coming in that they were going to be really selective when it was 0-2, that they weren’t going to chase too much,” Eovaldi told reporters after the Rangers’ 6-1 victory.

The Pirates, lords of discipline? Well, yes.

You might not think of them that way — I certainly didn’t — but the Pirates’ chase rate entering Thursday was the lowest in the majors. Their walk rate, meanwhile, was the fourth highest.

The team’s selectivity was not yet translating into superior run production. The Pirates ranked 18th in runs per game, in part because they ranked 18th in slugging percentage. But the reduction of their chase rate from 28.5 percent last season to 24.1 percent thus far is an encouraging sign and part of a deliberate plan.

“We just have made a really concerted effort in every way to show how all the production is going to be predicated off of staying in the zone, limiting chase, showing guys their damage zones, swing rates in that zone to track, etc.,” Pirates hitting coach Andy Haines said.

“Then we make sure to train it every day and continue to make sure the players see the value it creates, and how it can lead to other areas of production.”

The additions of veterans such as Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Santana and Connor Joe have helped. While many perceive the Pirates to be a young team, the average age of their position players is actually slightly above league average.

Regardless, Eovaldi’s observation was the latest indication that the Pirates are becoming a more difficult opponent. It all starts with controlling the strike zone.

All the things that we could be

Ahh, the age-old bar conversation favorite: Which current players are Hall of Famers? We can’t all sit at Jayson Stark’s local establishment with him, but fortunately, we can at least read his thoughts on the topic.

• Beyond Joey Votto and Zack Greinke, the “lock” list isn’t very surprising. No, Mike Trout has no rings, but Ted Williams, Ty Cobb and Ken Griffey Jr. exist.

• Where it gets interesting is the young stars. Of course Ronald Acuña Jr. isn’t a Hall of Famer right now, but the green flags are there. Consider Wander Franco — if he manages to hit 30 home runs and 110 extra-base hits before he even turns 23, “here are all the retired middle infielders who did all that through their age-22 season: Cal Ripken Jr. and A-Rod … and that’s it.

• Another interesting section is the guys who once seemed destined to make it, but no longer do. What do you make of the careers of Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel, given Billy Wagner’s exclusion thus far?

Some stories are for learning, and there’s a lot to learn here. But others make you think. This is definitely one of those.

We watched the Germans play the Greeks

It’s Memorial Day weekend, so we’ll be back on Tuesday. In the meantime, let’s rank the matchups happening around the league over the long weekend.

Tier One

• Dodgers at Rays: Both 2020 World Series teams currently lead their division, and have overcome big rotation injury issues. (Only one has an aquatic petting zoo in their outfield.)

• Rangers at Orioles: The second- and third-best records in the game. The Orioles have had shaky starting pitching, while the Rangers have had a shaky bullpen.

Tier Two

Shohei Ohtani: worth watching for the facial expressions alone. (Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

• Marlins at Angels: Both teams are one game out of the final wild-card spot in their respective leagues. Plus, Ohtani.

• Red Sox at Diamondbacks: Arizona leads the NL wild card, and Boston is only 2.5 games out in the AL.

• Padres at Yankees: There’s still star power on these two teams, even if a lot of it is on the IL.

• Pirates at Mariners: Mitch Keller vs. George Kirby is an A+ matchup, and both teams have nearly identical records as they look to stay above .500.

Tier Three

• Blue Jays at Twins: It feels weird to have a division leader in tier three. The Twins are weird, though.

• White Sox at Tigers: Hendriks’ possible return makes at least one game watchable? Still not buying either team yet.

• Giants at Brewers: Sorry we said nice things about the Brewers pitching: San Francisco took the first game 5-0.

• Mets at Rockies: It’s the Mets and Rockies, so the odds of some monumentally wild behavior are probably highest here.

• Reds at Cubs: This jumps to Tier One if Elly De La Cruz is called up (look at this monster home run).

• Cardinals at Guardians: Very compelling! (If you’re a fan of either team!)

• Phillies at Braves: Interesting in the way that it’s interesting to watch nature documentaries to see if the elusive gazelle can outrun the lion to live another day.

Tier A’s

• Astros at A’s: Or, maybe an elderly three-legged gazelle can lay very still so the lion doesn’t notice —  oh no, it’s lying on an ant hill … aaaand now it has stuck its whole head inside the ant hill. I don’t want to watch this anymore.

• Nationals at Royals: Would be more compelling to watch the original.

Handshakes and High Fives

Jim Bowden has an early look at the upcoming free agent class and ranks his Top 25.

Phil Maton has been one of the league’s best relief pitchers this year. He’s still “pitching angry,” but keeps his anger to the mound now.

Gary Sánchez’s tenure as a Met was brief. He’s been DFA’d.

Ken asks why the league is being so accommodating to the A’s as they attempt to move to Las Vegas.

Rafael Devers’ defense has been better this year, thanks to help from Manny Machado.

On the 3-0 Show: Eno and Britt talk about the Yankees resurgence, Juan Soto returning to form, and the Wild, Wild (AL) West.

The Windup Playlist

Here’s the big reveal: all the songs whose lyrics we used for the subheaders this week. Each week, we add the new songs to the monthly playlist.

  • “It’s Okay” — Land of Talk
  • “We Live in a Dump” — They Might Be Giants
  • “Can’t Stand the Midwest” — Dow Jones and the Industrials
  • “Rid of Me” — Nilüfer Yanya
  • “They Want It, But No” — Tobe Nwigwe, Fat Nwigwe
  • “Gorilla” — Little Simz
  • “Just Once in the World” — Bright Eyes
  • “Black Honey” — Thrice
  • “In Care of 8675309” — Lambchop
  • “Chin Up” — Yoke Lore
  • “Mean Thoughts and Cheap Shots” — The Rocket Summer
  • “You’re Somebody Else” — Flora Cash
  • “Made Of” — Viola Martinsson
  • “They Don’t Know” — White Sea
  • “Hudson” — Vampire Weekend

(Top photo of Zack Greinke: Ed Zurga / Getty Images)