Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Hayden Wesneski states his case for Opening Day rotation
MESA, Ariz. — Julio Rodríguez stepped into the box and Hayden Wesneski had one thought right off the bat:
“He’s bigger than I thought he was,” Wesneski said, laughing.
The Cubs rookie pitcher quickly clarified that he’s not trying to size everybody up but the moment was not lost on him. Here he was stating his case for the Cubs’ Opening Day rotation and the first batter he faced in his first Cactus League start was one of the great young talents in the game, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year.
Wesneski ended up striking out Rodríguez, 1 of his 4 whiffs in 2 scoreless innings of work Wednesday.
“I was like, ‘I’ve never seen you before.’ It was cool,” Wesneski said. “You learn a lot that you can do this and especially somebody who’s that talented. I know it’s his first couple at-bats [of spring] and he’s getting used to it but you kinda figure if you can get him out, you can get a lot of guys out.”
Hayden Wesneski tossed two scoreless innings in his first spring start. pic.twitter.com/3hhmB0v7J8— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 1, 2023
Hayden Wesneski struck out 4 in 2 IP in his first spring start! pic.twitter.com/ucFJOkv9N0— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 1, 2023
Wesneski has been getting a lot of guys out since he put on a Cubs uniform, coming over in the Scott Effross trade with the Yankees last summer. He was 3-2 with a 2.18 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33 innings across 4 starts and a pair of relief appearances.
He turned heads not only with his performance on the field but also with how he carried himself.
“Hayden is a hard worker that’s very smart in knowing the information, knowing what he does well, likes to compete, is not afraid of the moment — [that’s] what stands out,” David Ross said. “Knows he belongs but he also has a way about him that he’s not, ‘I’m the 5th starter, I’m this or that.’
“He knows that this is a process and it’s very much a veteran way about him. The way he works and knowing his body. He’s definitely got that ‘it’ factor that it doesn’t feel like things speed up on him at times. He’s got some grit to him. You feel a little bit of that just toughness about him.”
With Kyle Hendricks out for the start of the season as he recovers from his shoulder injury, Ross tabbed Wesneski, Adrian Sampson and Javier Assad as the trio in competition for the final rotation spot.
Assad had a stellar start to his spring on Sunday with 2 shutout innings against the Dodgers and, like Wesneski, enjoyed success in his first experience in the majors last year.
Sampson has been impressive in 31 big-league outings with the Cubs over the last two seasons, posting a 3.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.
There’s still nearly a full month before Opening Day but the 25-year-old Wesneski understands the task in front of him to try to make his first Opening Day roster.
“My whole life, you prove and you prove and now it’s like, OK, I actually have a chance,” he said. “It’s weird because you’re in the spot where you actually have a chance now. It’s a different mindset but I kinda go back to just doing your job. I make a pitch at a time and if I don’t make it, I did what I could.”
And when it comes down to it, Wesneski is up for the competition.
“I’m always trying to prove something,” he said. “I’m not supposed to be here. Sixth-round guys, yeah it’s a higher draft pick but if you look at the percentages and stuff, 6th-round guys don’t make it to the big leagues very often. I’m still trying to prove things.
“I’m a little edgy. I take things a little personal for probably no reason sometimes. You kinda just have to use it. It’s a long year. You gotta find some motivation somewhere.”
Elías showcases his stuff
While the rotation battle takes place, the Cubs are also evaluating the options for the final spots in the bullpen.
Roenis Elías represents one of the non-roster candidates in camp this spring and he threw 2.2 innings Wednesday after Wesneski left the game. He started out great, sprinkling a couple of singles between 4 strikeouts in the first 2 innings.
But then in his 3rd frame, he got two quick outs before giving up back-to-back homers to Rodríguez and Jarred Kelenic.
The 34-year-old southpaw is about to leave Cubs camp to play with Team Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, where he will likely work as a starting pitcher. He came into spring stretched out and has started in the past but more recently spent time as a reliever.
After missing all of 2020 and 2021 with an elbow injury, Elías made it back to the majors last year with the Mariners, sporting a 3.52 ERA in 7 games. He was lights out in the Dominican Winter League with a 0.92 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in 39 innings.
Right now, the Cubs only have one lefty in the bullpen (Brandon Hughes) and depending on how the rest of the spring goes, Elías could emerge as a strong candidate for the Opening Day bullpen.
Cody Bellinger had been out of the Cubs lineup for the last few days due to illness but he was back in there Wednesday, hitting cleanup and playing center field.
Bellinger announced his arrival with authority, smacking his first hit in a Cubs uniform in the 1st inning:
Cody Bellinger with his first hit in a Cubs uniform – a double to left-center pic.twitter.com/JtF8TeOIZo— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 1, 2023
He followed up with his second hit in his next at-bat — a bloop tucked just inside the left field foul line.
Patrick Wisdom was scratched from the Cubs’ lineup on both Monday and Tuesday with groin soreness. The team opted to give him another rest day on Wednesday.
“Kinda day-to-day,” Ross said. “It was a little bit better yesterday but still didn’t want to push it. Felt a little bit there. Probably take it a little bit slower, just being so early. He feels like if the season was starting, he would be playing in a game.
“But I don’t want to push anything right now and just make sure it continues to progress the right way. Trainers are being cautious.”
Justin Steele threw a bullpen Tuesday and came out of it well after being scratched from Sunday’s game with general arm soreness. He’s on track for his next start, which could come on Friday.
The Cubs host the Oakland A’s Thursday at Sloan Park with Marcus Stroman on the hill. Tune in at 2 p.m. on Marquee Sports Network.