Hjelle thriving with higher pitch count

Giants No. 6 prospect records career highs in innings, K's

Sean Hjelle has pitched a South Atlantic League-leading 19 2/3 innings in four starts. (Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images)

By Duane Cross / MiLB.com | April 20, 2019 10:51 PM

Four starts into his second professional season, Sean Hjelle -- and his competitive spirit -- is embracing an increased workload.

The Giants' No. 6 prospect was on top of his game Saturday, posting career highs in innings and strikeouts before Class A Augusta dropped a 3-1 decision to Charleston at SRP Park.


Gameday box score


Hjelle allowed one hit and one walk while striking out six over six innings. His previous highs were five innings on April 9 and five punchouts on April 4 in his South Atlantic League debut. The second-round pick in last year's Draft lowered his ERA to 2.75 and his opponents' batting average to .230.

"Anytime the manager has confidence to send me back out there, I'm going to take the ball," said Hjelle, who threw 55 of 81 pitches for strikes. "I'm the youngest in the family, so I come from a competitive environment. I have two older sisters and my mom and dad; we play a lot of board games. There is no mercy. You have to compete."

In 12 starts last season, the 6-foot-11 right-hander never worked more than two innings. This season, with an increased pitch count, he's thrown no fewer than four frames in each start.

Hjelle retired the first 10 batters Saturday before Kyle Gray walked with one out in the fourth. Josh Stowers followed with a base hit before the University of Kentucky product struck out Nelson Gomez and retired Eric Wagaman on a fielder's choice.

"After striking out the leadoff batter, I walked the next guy. That was just a lapse in focus. Then I gave up a hit after that," said Hjelle, who has allowed 20 baserunners in 19 2/3 innings. "It was a mental lapse. I wasn't aggressive and I took my foot off the gas."

Hjelle relies on a low-80s knuckle-curve and a fastball that sits between 91-94 mph. He set down the final eight batters he faced before turning things over to Solomon Bates (1-1).

"Tonight, I think I threw 12 or 13 changeups and only one was for a strike," Hjelle said, noting he did not have a go-to pitch all night. "The game plan, as always, was to keep the hitters off-balance. We found some holes and I was able to execute. It was only the fourth start of the year, but communication between innings is key. In the dugout, me, the catcher [Andres Angulo], the pitching coach [Clay Rapada], we just focused on the next three hitters up."

After Charleston turned the tables on Augusta following a late GreenJackets rally on Friday, Hjelle did not let the loss affect his outlook.

"That's just baseball, that's how the game goes," he said. "[Friday night] we walked it off; tonight, they got us late. The game ebbs and flows. If you don't have a short memory, you're not going to play this game for long."

Hjelle is conscious to not get caught up in numbers -- innings pitched, strikeouts, the sabermetics of today's game.

2019 MiLB include

"The next check box for me is the next start," he said. "My check box is keeping the team in position to win, whether that's four innings or six.or beyond that. The check box is my next quality start for the team."

For Charleston, Gomez smacked his third homer in four games in the ninth, while Brandon Lockridge delivered a two-run double.

Shawn Semple (2-0) earned the win with four innings of one-hit ball in relief of RiverDogs starter and Yankees No. 14 prospect Luis Medina, who gave up a run on eight hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five frames.

Augusta's Ismael Munguia was 2-for-4 with a double in his third consecutive multi-hit game.

Duane Cross is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DuaneCrossMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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