With scoreless gem, Wesneski steps up big for Cubs yet again

July 7th, 2024

CHICAGO -- finished his delivery and then watched Angels third baseman Luis Guillorme send a sharp one-hopper back up the middle in the third inning on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The Cubs pitcher reacted instinctively, reaching up to try to snare the baseball out of the air.

The ball connected with Wesneski’s bare right hand and was misdirected behind the mound.

“It kind of caught me just right on the middle of the fingers,” Wesneski said. “Basically, the fingers I need.”

Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson swiftly changed directions, charging forward and plucking the ball with his bare hand before firing a throw to first for the out. It was a standout play that backed a strong start from Wesneski, who guided the North Siders to a 5-0 victory and a series win with one of the better starts of his career.

Cubs manager Craig Counsell admitted he was initially worried about Wesneski’s hand, but the righty stayed in and gave the team a needed quality start. Wesneski was also thankful to have Swanson behind him to make that play.

“It was sick. It was cool,” Wesneski said. “But at this point, it’s expected, you know? He’s that good.”

It was undoubtedly a confidence-boosting outing for Wesneski, who has stepped in to help Chicago’s injury-marred rotation. In fact, that has been a theme to the righty’s season. When the bullpen has needed help, Wesneski has filled a role. When the starting staff has needed an arm, Wesneski has been there for that group, too.

There have been peaks and valleys along the way, but games like Sunday issue a reminder of the potential Wesneski has for the Cubs.

“The more we can get him out there, you just learn about yourself,” Counsell said. “You learn about who you are as a pitcher. You learn about maybe mistakes you make, how to fix yourself quicker, how to fix yourself mentally on the mound quicker when things don’t go your way. And a young pitcher has to go through that.

“This experience, it’s certainly going to help him, for sure. He’s also proving to himself that he can have success. He’s had success in both places.”

After allowing a single to Brandon Drury in the first inning, Wesneski held the Angels' lineup to an 0-for-18 showing over the remainder of his outing. The right-hander’s 6 1/3 scoreless frames matched his career best for most innings with no runs allowed -- something he also achieved on May 3 against the Brewers.

Wesneski had eight strikeouts in that start against Milwaukee. This time around, he went about things in a different manner. Wesneski had 19 balls in play and just four whiffs among the 34 swings he generated. He struck out two and walked one. Wesneski’s goal was to entice early contact against Los Angeles, and it worked.

“I got ahead. I threw a lot of strikes,” Wesneski said. “I didn’t get a bunch of punchouts, but I filled up the zone and I made them swing and start to swing earlier than I think they wanted to.”

Wesneski moved to the rotation from the Cubs’ bullpen in the wake of injuries to starters Jordan Wicks, Ben Brown and Javier Assad, who are all on the injured list. Assad could return as soon as the upcoming road trip, while Brown is on target for later this month. Wicks’ timeline is less clear, but he is currently rehabbing at the team’s site in Arizona.

Wesneski posted a 2.68 ERA in his first 17 appearances this season between the bullpen (14 games) and rotation (three starts), but then hit a snag. Prior to Sunday’s effort, the righty had an 8.31 ERA in his previous five games, seeing his ERA climb to 4.14 on the year. Against the Angels, Wesneski showed the ability to bounce back from that rough stretch.

“He’s been awesome,” said Cubs first baseman Michael Busch, who belted a two-run homer in the seventh. “I don’t even know if I understand how hard that is -- just not being a pitcher -- but it’s hard to kind of flop spots. But I think mentally he just accepts everything, every role that he’s given, and he just goes with it.”

Wesneski said he has worked on how to view his situation.

“My job is to get outs,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in the eighth or the second. That’s kind of how my brain’s processing is.”