Wesneski follows surprise callup with historic debut

September 7th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Hayden Wesneski's hunt for breakfast on Monday morning led him to a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla. His first choice was closed due to the Labor Day holiday, so this was a last-ditch attempt at securing some sustenance.

That was when the pitcher's phone buzzed with a call from Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey. Wesneski found out that he was needed in Chicago, where he would be making his Major League debut for the Cubs. Wesneski settled for a cold brew coffee from the gas station fridge.

"Breakfast went out the window," Wesneski said with a laugh.

In a 9-3 win over the Reds on Tuesday night, Wesneski emerged from the left-field bullpen door that is surrounded by Wrigley Field's famous ivy. The rookie right-hander took the mound in the fifth inning and needed just three pitches to collect his first career strikeout as the fans inside the Friendly Confines roared.

Wesneski's sweeping breaking ball dove beyond the bat of Austin Romine for that initial taste of the big leagues. And that was just the opening act. Wesneski earned the victory and became the first reliever since at least 1901 to log at least five scoreless innings while allowing two or fewer hits with a minimum of eight strikeouts in an MLB debut.

“Today was special,” Wesneski said. “I couldn’t have planned it any better.”

It was not only Wesneski's first look at Major League hitters, but the first glimpse for Cubs fans at another highly-touted prospect. The Cubs reeled in the 24-year-old Wesneski -- ranked No. 12 on Pipeline's Top 30 list for the North Siders -- from the Yankees for reliever Scott Effross at the Trade Deadline last month.

The trade did not come as a shock to Wesneski.

"With the Yankees, it was a little bit weird," he said. "Around the Trade Deadline, the Yankees, you kind of expect -- especially if you're a younger guy -- you expect to get traded. It's just something that could happen. It's a possibility every year. Especially last year, I saw a bunch of my friends go."

That phone call from Pevey? That was a shock.

After Wesneski hung up with Iowa's long-time manager, the pitcher said he almost felt like he needed to call him back to confirm what he just heard. Wesneski phoned his dad, who did not answer on the first attempt. The pitcher checked his texts, and nothing had landed from the Cubs' front office, yet.

Wesneski finally got his dad on the line.

"I told my dad, I go, 'I think I got pulled up?'" Wesneski said. "I wasn't sure. I was like, 'I haven't got any text messages.' He goes, 'Well, I can't tell anybody that until you figure it out for real.'"

As Wesneski stood outside the Cubs' locker room on Tuesday -- a large photo of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo smiling from the wall behind him -- it was clear he sorted things out. The howling and high-fiving party in the lower-level stands made it obvious that family and friends got the memo, too.

Even in a big league stadium, it was easy to hear and spot his contingent of fans.

“I try not to find them, just because I try to separate it,” Wesneski said with a smirk. “But you couldn't really do it today, I'm sorry to tell you that. I definitely heard them. But I'm so glad they came and I'm glad they were energetic.”

Wesneski’s parents were unable to be there for his debut, but the young pitcher said he planned on calling his dad as soon as he got done with his first postgame press conference in The Show.

Wesneski followed four innings from veteran lefty Wade Miley, who was activated from the 60-day injured list prior to the game and on a restricted pitch count due to his comeback from a left shoulder issue. When the 35-year-old Miley walked into the interview room after the win, he was armed with a one-liner.

“I don’t know why you want to talk to me,” Miley quipped. “Did you see what that kid just did? I’m just the opener.”

Overall this season, Wesneski posted a 3.92 ERA with 106 strikeouts against 36 walks in 110 1/3 innings at Triple-A between the Yankees and Cubs. Wesneski turned in a 2.37 ERA in his last four games (19 innings) and carried that success up to the call to the Cubs.

With a deep arsenal of pitches, command of the zone and poise in big moments -- something on display in his debut -- Wesneski was deemed close to MLB ready at the time of the trade. Now, Chicago wanted to put that to the test with the future rotation picture in mind.

"He's earned this callup. He's done a really nice job," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I know he's excited about it. It's a big league opportunity to come up here and just show what you can do."

Wesneski certainly did that, earning a standing ovation from the crowd after striking out Jose Barrero to end the game.

“They're loud,” he said of the Wrigley faithful. “I didn't think Chicago on a Tuesday would get this loud. I can't even imagine the playoffs and stuff like that. I was so stoked.”