What is Wesneski's task at Triple-A Iowa?

May 25th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- After nearly a year of recovery, rehab and a bit of reinvention, veteran is making his long-awaited return to the Cubs’ rotation. As he methodically worked through a throwing program and delivery adjustments, the comeback was never the question.

What the Cubs could not predict was how Hendricks' timeline would align with the need for the starting staff. This was one of those classic baseball instances in which a manager leans on the old refrain: “Things have a way of working themselves out.”

For the Cubs right now, things worked out in a such a way where the rotation indeed has both a vacancy and need. The latter stems from -- Chicago’s big-ticket free-agent signing – sorting through some ongoing issues on the hill. The former was created by the Cubs optioning rookie to Triple-A Iowa earlier this month.

Taillon was originally listed to start against the Mets on Thursday, but his outing has been pushed back to Saturday against the Reds. That will give the big right-hander more time to dive into what has ailed him. Meanwhile, Wesneski -- who won the fifth spot in Spring Training with Hendricks sidelined -- has started that process with the I-Cubs.

“He's had really good success,” reminded Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, referring to Wesneski. “His struggles have come to lefties this year, and some of that is usage, but also a lot of it's just execution.”

Before Wesneski returned to Triple-A, Hottovy and the Cubs’ pitching group focused on execution as the top priority for the pitcher before he gets back to the Majors. In a recent chat, Hottovy explained that early-season struggles with the sweeping slider for Wesneski caused a kind of chain reaction that needed sorting out.

“He was searching for the slider a little bit. The shape wasn't quite there,” Hottovy said. “So we kind of eliminated the cutter a little bit to help him simplify that and get the slider back. But the cutter's absolutely a weapon that we need to lefties.”

Wesneski, who posted a 5.03 ERA in eight starts for the Cubs before being optioned, featured his cutter more than 20% of the time in his first two outings of the year. That rate dropped to 4.4% in his third start and remained under 11% in four of the next five turns, as he tried to get his arsenal functioning properly.

When Wesneski started returning to the cutter more again, Hottovy pointed out that the velocity on the pitch was diminished. It was another compounding factor for Wesneski, who allowed a .325/.366/.662 slash line to lefties at the MLB level this year. He held lefty batters to a .159 average in his six-game stay with the Cubs in ’22.

By the time the Cubs sent the 25-year-old Wesneski back to Triple-A, there was confidence that the pitcher’s mechanics and pitch shapes were in a better place. In his first start back with the I-Cubs, the righty logged five no-hit innings with four walks and five strikeouts on Saturday.

“The biggest thing, for me, with him,” Hottovy said, “is now that the shapes are good, now that he's gotten things where he wants to, it's about, ‘Go execute the pitches. Go simplify your thoughts. Simplify your approach. Go execute pitches.’

“And then, if shapes start changing, and we need to readjust something -- a grip or a tweak or something -- we can. But just go back to compete mode and go get guys out. That's kind of where we kind of left a lot of that stuff with him.”