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Hjelle debut, aggressive baserunning: Takeaways from Giants-A’s spring game


© Rick Scuteri | 2020 Feb 23


MESA, Ariz. — Hey, another close win.

After their 2019 edition specialized in narrow (if few) victories, the Giants squeezed out a first of the spring season Sunday in a game, we repeat, that does not matter. A good crowd of 6,017 at Hohokam Stadium watched the Giants beat the A’s, 5-3, their first victory of camp (1-1), as a late single by a backup-catcher candidate pushed San Francisco ahead.

Rob Brantly, competing with Tyler Heineman, singled home the go-ahead run in the eighth, a bouncer to the right side off righty Parker Dunshee that drove in Bryce Johnson. Don’t worry, you won’t have to learn all these names.

Here are some takeaways from the game:

Hjelle time

The biggest curiosity of camp, which we mean literally, got his first action of the spring.

Sean Hjelle, all 6 feet, 11 inches of him, notched a save, recording the final three outs and looking imposing doing so. It was a perfect inning without a strikeout, and Hjelle hit 96 mph with his fastball.

“Even though this is a spring training game, for a guy like Sean Hjelle, there’s going to be some butterflies,” said Gabe Kapler, who said Hjelle stretched out before they told him to warm up, so excited was he. “As much as we were encouraged by the stuff coming out crisp, we were also encouraged by him pounding the strike zone, which is really what we need our late-inning relievers to do.”

The top prospect, a second-round pick in 2018 who reached Double-A Richmond last season, has not been earmarked as a reliever, though. He’s positioned himself to be a strong rotation candidate if he continues to develop this season.

Off and running

The Giants have unveiled a baserunner-of-the-day award — Austin Slater, who legged out a gap triple Saturday, was the first winner — as part of a renewed emphasis on how to improve on the margins.

It’s already becoming evident they want to be a faster, more active team.

The Giants stole a run and possibly ran themselves out of another in the third inning. Outfielder Jamie Westbrook went from first to third on Kean Wong’s bounced single, and Wong took second on the throw — which bounded into center field, allowing Westbrook to easily score.

Four batters later, though, the aggressiveness backfired. Wong tried to go from second to home on what turned out to be an infield single from Joe McCarthy, but was nailed down.

Perhaps this means Westbrook, who showed off good legs, is the front-runner for Sunday’s honor. Regardless, the Giants are demonstrating they want to be not just a faster team, but a team that puts more pressure on defenses.

“We really want them to push the envelope, test their own limitations,” Kapler said. “That’s sort of standard around a lot of camps — a little bit more aggressive than you might be during the regular season.”

Adding to Westbrook’s good day was a fifth-inning double.

Catchers can catch, throw, maybe even hit

Every out matters in the early battle between Heineman and Brantly for backup catcher, and Heineman showed off a glove that he hopes gives him an edge — before Brantly showed off his arm and bat.

Austin Allen blooped an Enderson Franco offering high and into third-base foul territory in the fourth inning, and Heineman sprinted and got a bead on it. He angled into the railing of the Giants dugout, leaned and made the play to a nice round of applause — the loudest of which may have been Franco’s. The reliever patted him on the chest, and Gabe Kapler congratulated Heineman, too, upon his entering the dugout.

Two innings later, it was Brantly behind the plate when Jandel Gustave walked Nate Orf. Orf took off for second, but Brantly’s throw to Cristhian Adames was excellent, an easy tag on the first-base side of the bag completing the out.

In the competition to replace Stephen Vogt, it was a nice defensive start before Brantly added his bat to the mix. His chopped single was the difference in the game.

Sam I Am Not

One of the favorites for a bullpen with few favorites is Sam Coonrod, who impressed last season and never got demoted after debuting in late May.

His first look of the spring — which means so very little — was not as impressive. Coonrod was knocked around in the third, struggling with his control in allowing four hits and a walk before escaping the two-run inning.

Short and sweet

Abiatal Avelino made his first swing of the spring season count.

The overshadowed infielder, who got the Day Two start at shortstop, rocketed a homer off lefty Jake Diekman, pulling it deep over the left-field fence as the Giants took a 1-0 third-inning lead.

Avelino may be best known for running a Ron Wotus stop sign last season, which got him buried at Triple-A Sacramento. It was a tough finish to his major league season, but his spring season has begun well.

 

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