Wesneski 'doing the right stuff' and feeling like he belongs

May 8th, 2024

CHICAGO -- In the early days of Spring Training, even before exhibition games started, Cubs manager Craig Counsell could tell that was frustrated with how he felt on the mound. The young pitcher’s delivery was off, and it was going to take time to fix his mechanics and restore his confidence.

“The important thing is that you kind of don’t give in to it,” Counsell said. “You keep fighting, and you keep working every day to get a little bit better -- and find something that clicks for you. And it certainly feels like he has.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Wesneski took the hill at Wrigley Field and delivered a second straight quality start for the Cubs in a 3-0 defeat against the Padres. Working against the righty on this afternoon was the fact San Diego starter Dylan Cease was on top of his game, spinning seven scoreless innings in which he yielded one infield hit and racked up 12 strikeouts.

Those days happen over the course of a long season. Zooming out, the early contributions from Wesneski within a Chicago staff already heavily tested by injuries and other issues has been an important development. That is not only true for the Cubs in their quest to contend, but for Wesneski’s mentality as he moves forward.

“It helps for someone like me that has been moved up and down,” Wesneski said. “It just confirms that I should be here, right? And I deserve to pitch in the big leagues, or I should pitch in the big leagues. And it also gives me a check point of like, ‘Hey, you’re doing the right stuff. You're doing the right work. Continue to do that.’”

The 26-year-old Wesneski began the season with Triple-A Iowa, and the righty is the first to acknowledge that he needed that assignment. Wesneski admitted after his previous outing that his offseason work could have been better, and he arrived in Arizona in the spring with too much rotation in his throwing motion.

The version of Wesneski that Cubs fans are witnessing now is much more direct to the plate and more authoritative with his strike throwing. He was hardly perfect on Wednesday -- he hit one batter, walked another and all three runs allowed came with two outs -- but he pitched into the seventh inning and kept Chicago within range of a comeback.

“Hayden’s been awesome,” Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said. “Coming up, spot starts, out of the bullpen, everything that we could ask of him. Even today, that’s really competitive baseball. [He was] doing a great job keeping us in that game against a really tough pitcher.

“He’s been lights out. The whole starting staff has been fantastic. It’s given us a chance to win a lot of baseball games.”

Including Wesneski’s performance against the Padres, the Cubs’ rotation has collectively turned in a 2.60 ERA since April 14. He was first summoned from Triple-A Iowa on April 17 and helped a tattered bullpen with 6 1/3 shutout innings across two early appearances. Wesneski has since posted a 2.20 ERA in his three starts.

Overall this season, Wesneski has a 1.59 ERA in his five outings, in which he has compiled 17 strikeouts and four walks in 22 2/3 innings. He has yielded 16 hits with no home runs allowed while limiting batters to a .188 average. Against the Padres, Wesneski featured five pitches, leading the way with his sweeper (37 times) and four-seamer (37).

“The biggest thing in all of this is I’m getting ahead with whatever pitch it is,” Wesneski said.

Wesneski moved into the rotation after both Kyle Hendricks and Jordan Wicks landed on the injured list. Hendricks (low back strain) is on a Minor League rehab assignment, with his next Triple-A outing slated for Sunday. Wicks (left forearm strain) has resumed throwing, including a bullpen session earlier this week.

Both Ben Brown and Wesneski have helped fill in the rotation gaps. Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon are active again after their own IL stints. All have earned high praise from Counsell. If and when the starting staff is fully intact, the question will be whether Wesneski returns to the bullpen, along with Brown.

“We want to get healthy, of course, and hopefully we’re always trending toward getting healthy,” Counsell said. “But he’s pitching well, and that’s going to help us no matter what. We’ll kind of figure that out as we go. Good pitchers are going to help us win games, and Wes is pitching well.”