The SF Giants dropped both games of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. However, Sean Hjelle put together a strong outing with a new twist in the second game of the day.
SF Giants right-handed hurler Sean Hjelle excels in appearance against the Brewers
Since the Giants had a doubleheader, they were allowed to carry a 29th player, which they used to recall Hjelle. The 6-foot-11 righty has struggled in his second turn through the Pacific Coast League as he has posted a 4.92 ERA, 5.23 FIP, 1.54 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, and a 2.11 SO/W ratio in 22 starts for the Sacramento River Cats. However, this includes a strong 56.7 percent ground ball rate.
The results have not been much better in his brief time in a Giants uniform either. In three appearances with San Francisco, Hjelle has yielded six earned runs on 10 hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts across six innings.
The Giants had high expectations of Hjelle after he was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft out of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. From a unique, downward plane, Hjelle filled up the strike zone in college, and not surprisingly, moved quickly up the minor league ladder. However, it felt as if his development had stalled in the past couple of years as he has struggled to the tune of a 5.21 ERA in two seasons with the River Cats.
Despite these struggles, Hjelle put together an encouraging performance against the Brewers on Thursday. In five innings, the 25-year-old pitcher allowed just one earned run on three hits, two walks, six strikeouts, and six groundouts. Perhaps, it is just one appearance but it is tough to ignore the contrast between Hjelle on Thursday night compared to earlier in the season.
Earlier in the year, the right-handed hurler relied primarily on a sinker-curveball pitch mix, with the former inducing a healthy number of ground balls but neither pitch performed particularly well. On Thursday, he continued to rely heavily on the sinker, but with higher velocity, as well as a cut fastball.
The slider, changeup, and four-seam fastball were rarely deployed. He used the sinker-cutter in a combined 89 percent of his pitches on Thursday, so this appears to be an intentional change.
A change in pitch mix is often the quickest way for a pitcher to alter performance. Could this be the case with Hjelle? It is too early to tell but he tallied a fair number of swinging strikes and ground balls against a good Brewers lineup.
The Giants currently sit at 66-72 and have fallen to fourth place in the NL West. There is little competitive baseball remaining, but there are still reasons to watch such as following which players might be able to help them in 2023. Hjelle still has a lot to prove but he might get a couple more starts in a Giants uniform before the season comes to a close.