MILWAUKEE — Over this final month of the regular season, the Giants will give their young players a chance to show their potential in the Majors. Thursday’s doubleheader against the Brewers was a big opportunity for reliever Sean Hjelle.
Hjelle, who was added as the 29th man for the twin bill, didn’t pitch in the 2-1 loss in Game 1. But the rookie delivered five strong innings with six strikeouts in the Giants’ 4-2 loss in the nightcap at American Family Field.
“I thought it was really promising,” manager Gabe Kapler said about Hjelle’s outing. “One thing that I think is going to be his calling card is attacking the strike zone and throwing a ton of strikes, and allowing his movement to play. He got some good swings and misses and did everything we could have asked for, and I think it’s a nice jumping-off point for the next time he pitches for us.”
With two bullpen games scheduled for the doubleheader, the Giants leaned on Jakob Junis in Game 1 — six innings of two-run baseball — and Hjelle in Game 2.
The 6-foot-11 Hjelle came on with two outs in the first inning and he held Milwaukee to one run on three hits and two walks. He also induced a career-high eight whiffs and topped out at a career-best 96 mph on his fastball.
“I can’t complain with that,” Hjelle said. “Putting up zeros and throwing strikes, and getting ahead of guys. [I was] just trying to empty the tank a little bit because previous situations this year coming out of the ‘pen with an opener haven’t gone that long.”
Before Thursday, Hjelle, who was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft, has seen limited action this season. He previously appeared in just three games with San Francisco and he hadn’t pitched in the Majors since July 3.
But the 25-year-old was ready to show out on Thursday, trying to make the most of his opportunities in the big leagues.
“Obviously, any inning that you can get in the big leagues to prove your worth is huge,” Hjelle said. “And especially this time of year, being September, the rosters expand.”
The plan for Hjelle throughout the rest of this season will be determined as the team weighs its options with him moving forward. With the recent injury to starter Alex Wood, a spot in the rotation could be open for Hjelle to seize.
“It is something that we’re going to discuss, but it was a great showing for Hjelle,” Kapler said.
Kapler is excited to help Hjelle grow moving forward. Being a young pitcher, he will continue to learn as he gets more innings in the Majors and the Giants are hoping to work with him on certain things in the future.
“He’s a great candidate to stick with through the winter and maybe have him come to Arizona [for Spring Training],” Kapler said. “I haven’t talked to him about this yet, [it’s] something that we’ve been discussing, having him come to Arizona and see if we can maintain some of that velocity and continue to take advantage of strike throwing and the quality mechanics.”
With every inning that Hjelle pitches, he’s hoping to show the Giants that he can be a big piece of their future.
“[I’m] just trying to prove that I belong here this year,” Hjelle said. “But also trying to set myself up for next year and get as many innings as I can.”
With his mom and a few family friends in the stands, Hjelle delivered career highs in innings and strikeouts. He also managed to strike out Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich, which was a highlight moment for him.
“My best friend growing up was in the stands today and after the game, he was like, ‘Dude you struck out the [2018 National League] MVP,’” Hjelle said. “It was pretty awesome.”