A true Giant on the mound, 6'11" Hjelle debuts

No. 26 prospect, who threw a perfect 7th, ties Rauch as tallest MLB player on record

May 7th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sean Hjelle startled his parents by calling them repeatedly and interrupting their slumber in the wee hours of Friday morning.

When Hjelle’s dad, Mark, finally picked up around 1 or 2 a.m. Minnesota time, he knew that his son must have been calling about one of two things.

“Either something is wrong, or something is really, really good,” Mark said. “So which one is it?”

“It’s really, really good,” Hjelle replied. “Don’t worry. It’s all good.”

Hjelle (pronounced jelly) was calling to inform his parents that he was heading to the big leagues after earning his first callup with the Giants, who selected the promising right-hander in the second round of the 2018 Draft.

Despite the short notice, Hjelle’s parents, along with his wife, Caroline, and his two sons -- 2-year-old George and six-week-old Emmett -- were in the stands to watch him toss a scoreless seventh inning in the Giants’ 3-2 loss to the Cardinals on Friday night at Oracle Park.

“It’s what you dream about as a kid,” said Hjelle, who turns 25 on Saturday. “They hand you the ball, and you’ve got a job. You just go out there and do it. It was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Dylan Carlson’s go-ahead single off Camilo Doval in the ninth inning ultimately saddled the Giants with their fifth consecutive defeat -- their longest losing streak since August 2020 -- but Hjelle’s performance served as a bright spot on an otherwise drab evening.

The Giants didn’t have the luxury of easing Hjelle into the Majors, as the club’s No. 26 prospect was brought in to relieve John Brebbia with the game tied, 2-2. Still, Hjelle’s debut couldn’t have gone much better, as he needed only 11 pitches to retire Juan Yepez and Andrew Knizner on groundouts and strike out Corey Dickerson on an 86 mph slider.

At 6-foot-11, Hjelle also secured his place in the record books, matching Jon Rauch as the tallest player on record in the Major Leagues.

“Obviously, there’s nerves,” Hjelle said. “To be honest, there’s nerves every time you step on the mound. It’s that competitive spirit. You want to do well. You kind of push that aside and muscle memory takes over. It’s what you train for all spring. It’s what you train for every day during the season. It’s there, obviously, but training just takes over and pushing that side, you go out there and throw the ball.”

Despite being a literal Giant, Hjelle doesn’t throw exceptionally hard -- he topped out at 94.9 mph in his debut -- relying instead on his sinker to generate plenty of ground balls. Still, manager Gabe Kapler said he believes Hjelle’s height can create uncomfortable matchups for hitters who aren’t used to seeing such a towering figure on the mound.

“The way I would think about Sean is, it’s an advantage to be very different in the Major Leagues,” Kapler said. “It takes a while for the league to adjust, and even when they do adjust, it’s still so different from all of the other looks around the league that it does provide a deception advantage. My personal take on it is, very different is always good when it comes to pitchers.”

With veteran Alex Cobb expected to be on a pitch count in his second start since returning from the injured list and two relievers -- Mauricio Llovera and Sam Long -- sent down to Triple-A Sacramento after appearing in back-to-back games, the Giants felt it was a good time to promote Hjelle, who logged a 4.37 ERA over five outings with Triple-A Sacramento this year.

Hjelle has been a starter in the Minors, but the Giants decided to use him in relief to help neutralize the Cardinals’ right-handed-heavy lineup.

“I thought it was excellent,” Kapler said of Hjelle’s debut. “I thought what was most impressive about Sean’s outing was falling behind 3-0 [against Knizner] and being able to climb back in. … It was so critical that there were no walks in that inning. The key to his success is going to be weak contact. It’s going to be sink on his fastball, balls on the ground. We’re going to have to be able to convert those into outs, which we did tonight.”

It’s unclear how long Hjelle’s first look in the Majors will last, as the Giants are expecting to get Dominic Leone back from the COVID-19 injured list soon, but the moment certainly made for an unbeatable early birthday present.

“It was a special day,” said Hjelle. “This is probably the best birthday present I could have ever gotten and probably will ever get.”