Hjelle's big night sends him into offseason with confidence originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN DIEGO -- The t-shirt worked on a number of levels for Sean Hjelle, who stands 6-foot-11. The tall right-hander saved his "I'm Kind Of A Big Deal" shirt, complete with Ron Burgundy's face, for San Diego, and he certainly made sure he would be in a good mood when he pulled it on after the game.
Hjelle's five innings were the highlight for the Giants on Monday night, at least until J.D. Davis nearly hit a go-ahead grand slam that would have capped an eight-run comeback in the top of the ninth. When it came up short short, the Giants fell back to 80-80 thanks to a 7-4 loss to the Padres, but they still found something to be thrilled about.
Hjelle struck out a career-high eight in five shutout innings, showing his best stuff as a big leaguer. It was, manager Gabe Kapler said, "as good a last showing for Sean Hjelle as we could have imagined."
"He's going to go into the offseason with all sorts of confidence that he can get some of the best hitters in the world out," Kapler continued. "Obviously the middle of their lineup is no joke. Even without (Manny) Machado, you still have (Juan) Soto in there, you still have (Jake) Cronenworth in there, you still have (Brandon) Drury in there. Those guys are tough Major League bats. That's no cakewalk and he was dominant."
Hjelle counted Soto, Josh Bell and Wil Myers among his strikeout victims, but it was his rocky start that made Kapler most proud. The right-hander took over in the second and gave up a couple of hard singles, but he struck out four of the next five as he turned the lineup over.
"That's the mark of a good Major League starter and good Major League pitcher," Kapler said. "Between David Villar and Sean Hjelle, I feel like we have a lot to be excited about going forward."
Hjelle will finish his rookie year with a 5.76 ERA in eight appearances, but it's another number that Kapler was looking at. He struck out 28 in 25 innings, and Kapler called that a tremendous sign. As he worked his way through the minors, there were some questions about whether Hjelle's stuff would play at the big league level, but he topped out at 96.8 mph on Monday.
The velocity this late in the year was a good sign, as were the 10 swinging strikes he got on his slider. Hjelle was happy to go out on a high note, saying he "has no complaints" after his final appearance, and he now will enter a big offseason riding high. He said he will visit Scottsdale a couple of times this winter to stay sharp, but otherwise will have a normal offseason, one that will start with a lot of swagger.
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"Being able to do that against the likes of Juan Soto and guys like that, it's all the confidence that you could have," Hjelle said. "It's one of those moments where it's like, hey I can do this, I'm doing this, and I'd like to think I can do this for a long time. It's a great feeling to have that and be able to execute those pitches.
"Sooner or later the game is going to humble me at some point and that's where you go back to that routine and the things that you implement to fall back on and bounce back and hopefully have another outing like tonight."