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Hembree making his pitch for relief role with Giants

Hembree making his pitch for relief role with Giants

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Heath Hembree doesn't have any illusions. The reliever knows he's a long shot to make the Giants' Opening Day roster as the pitching staff's 12th man.

But the way he sees it, even if he begins the season with Triple-A Fresno, it'll only be for a little more seasoning.

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Ranked by MLB.com as the club's No. 5 prospect, Hembree is in the middle of his second big league camp trying to get one step closer to his ultimate goal, a role in the back end of the Giants' bullpen.

"Obviously I want to go out and have my best stuff every time," he said. "But all I can do, though, is do the best I can and hope it has a good impact on the team and the guys who make the decisions notice me. I just want to control what I can and not worry about the rest."

Hembree's regular pitching repertoire includes a fastball that stays in the mid-90s to go along with a hard slider. This spring, however, the 24-year-old is attempting to solidify his third pitch, a changeup, so he can use it freely throughout at-bats.

"I've been throwing it a lot more," he said. "And I've gotten a ton more confidence in it. I'm looking forward to mixing it in more this year."

Last season with Fresno, Hembree threw the pitch occasionally, but never enough for opposing hitters to fear it. That's part of the reason why the Giants sent him to the Arizona Fall League for the second consecutive year in 2012.

"I went there to work on it, and it got a lot better," he said. "Then I threw it a lot over the offseason, and so far this spring, it feels good. The biggest difference is the confidence, though. I think it's right up there with my other two pitches right now."

The other reason for Hembree's trip to the AFL was so he could get a few more innings after missing part of the 2012 season with an elbow strain. The right-hander said he's 100 percent healthy now and feeling more and more like his old self each time he steps on the mound.

In 2011, Hembree made waves by leading the Minor Leagues with 38 saves while pitching for Class A Advanced San Jose and Double-A Richmond. He boasted a 1.86 ERA that season but the next year he struggled a bit while battling the injury, posting a 4.74 ERA for Fresno.

Hembree will likely receive plenty of opportunities to show his stuff this spring while three of the club's relievers are off participating in the World Baseball Classic. It's a chance he relishes to seize.

"It's one thing that's good for young guys that they have that going on so there will be some innings opening up," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting a couple more outings in and taking advantage of it."

In his fourth appearance of the spring Thursday, Hembree struggled against the Indians, allowing four runs on three hits including home runs by Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi. In his previous three outings, however, he only gave up one run in three innings while earning a save.

"He wasn't sharp with his command today," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He faced some pretty good hitters but he was up. He's a young kid."

Regardless of where he ends up once camp in Arizona breaks up, Hembree is just trying to soak up as much information from his teammates as possible for when he finally does get a shot in the Majors.

"I take some stuff here and there, just in how they prepare," he said. "You learn a lot, you get to see how everybody goes about their business. It's a good experience to be up here and have everyone else see what I have."

Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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