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SF Giants add RHP Jharel Cotton to MLB roster, option RHP Sean Hjelle

The SF Giants added veteran right-handed pitcher Jharel Cotton to their big-league roster on Wednesday. Cotton posted a 2.83 ERA this season with the Twins.

The SF Giants added right-handed pitcher Jharel Cotton to their major-league roster on Wednesday. The Giants claimed Cotton off waivers on Sunday but had yet to assign him to a roster in their organization. To create a spot on the active roster for Cotton, the team optioned right-handed pitcher Sean Hjelle. Cotton told Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle that he expects to be used as a long reliever out of the Giants bullpen.

Cotton was designated for assignment by the Twins last week. He was actually quite effective out of Minnesota's bullpen this season, but the Twins must have been skeptical he could keep up his performance and decided to option him to Triple-A. Cotton showed no signs of slowing down in the minors, though, but Minnesota opted to cut him loose anyway.

Cotton has a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings pitched (25 appearances) with 31 strikeouts in the bigs this season. While every ERA estimator expects Cotton's ERA to be at least one run higher than it is (3.79 xERA, 5.48 FIP, 5.09 xFIP), it's still surprising to see a team let go of a reliever with an ERA below 3.00. Moreover, Cotton was sporting a 2.88 ERA with the Twins Triple-A affiliate in St. Paul and had 39 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched.

Twins pitcher Jharel Cotton walks off the mound after an outing. He has since been acquired by the SF Giants.

Cotton was originally drafted by the Dodgers back in 2012, prior to Giants current president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi's time in Los Angeles. However, the two overlapped for multiple seasons before Zaidi and the Dodgers traded Cotton to the Athletics in 2016.

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Cotton joined the A's starting rotation in 2017 but was unable to find consistent success. Despite intriguing flashes across 24 starts, he finished the year with a 5.58 ERA. Before he could try building off that performance the next season, Cotton had to undergo season-ending UCL surgery to repair a ligament in his throwing elbow.

Cotton was unable to refind his footing with Oakland. In 2019, Cotton struggled mightily in the minors and was traded to the Cubs following the season. Without minor-league baseball in 2020, Cotton did not have a great opportunity to work back into shape. However, at the end of the year, the Cubs released Cotton, he inked a minor-league contract with the Rangers, and moved to the bullpen.

Cotton was effective out of Texas' bullpen last season. He posted a 3.52 ERA across 23 appearances (30.2 innings pitched) with 30 strikeouts. Like Minnesota, though, Texas mysteriously chose to move on from Cotton and designated him for assignment.

Cotton has simplified his pitch arsenal since converting to relief. The 30-year-old righty primarily utilizes a four-seam fastball and changeup, only occasionally mixing in a slider and curveball to keep hitters off balance.

Hjelle has oscillated between the Giants and Triple-A for much of the season. In his most recent stint, Hjelle has taken the bulk innings role in three bullpen games. He was hit hard in an appearance against the Dodgers but has been far more effective in two appearances, including a strong showing in San Francisco's 6-3 win over the Rockies on Tuesday. Across six MLB appearances this season, Hjelle has 18 strikeouts in 16 innings but an abysmal 8.44 ERA. In 22 starts at Triple-A, Hjelle has a much more palatable 4.92 ERA across 97 innings pitched.

The SF Giants have used Hjelle heavily over the past week, throwing 116 pitches in the last five days. Cotton has not appeared in an official game since September 9th and should give Giants manager Gabe Kapler a well-rested arm to turn to out of the bullpen.