Steady Preparation: Hayden Wesneski’s pregame routine is leading to success for him and Cubs
PITTSBURGH — A little over three-and-a-half hours before first pitch, Hayden Wesneski stepped onto the tarp-covered mound at PNC Park with black headphones draped over his ears and mimicked his pre-pitch routine.
He walked up and down the mound, looking around the stadium as he prepared for his second career big-league start.
“When I’ve never been to a place, I like to just see what the backdrop looks like,” Wesneski said. “I like to see if the mound looks close [or] far. What’s behind it …There’s just little things that you appreciate in every mound and every place.”
That routine helped him perfectly.
Wesneski struck out 6 batters in 6.1 innings of work, allowing just 2 runs on 5 hits as the Cubs beat the Pirates 3-2. It’s the second straight quality start for Wesneski.
“When I’ve never been to a place, I like to just see what the backdrop looks like. I like to see if the mound looks close, far. What’s behind it … There’s just little things that you appreciate in every mound & every place." – Hayden Wesneski on his pregame routine. pic.twitter.com/R5X9ad83w7— Andy Martínez (@amartinez_11) September 23, 2022
The most impressive part of his outing was in the 5th, where Wesneski threw an immaculate inning. It was the fifth such occurrence in Cubs’ history.
As he’s been up in the big leagues, it’s Wesneski’s preparation ahead of his outings that has impressed the team.
“I think the things that have stood out to me is just how mature he already is in his routine and what he does to get ready. I think he knows himself really well,” David Ross said before the game. “I know he knows what he needs to do to be prepared to go out there and perform.”
He’s succeeding on the mound, because of his preparation and execution. After Thursday’s game, he now carries a 2.45 ERA and 0.81 WHIP through his first 4 MLB appearances with 24 strikeouts to only 4 walks.
So, is it really as easy to pitch in the big leagues as Wesneski is making it look?
“No, it’s really not,” he said with a slight chuckle. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it. Plus, I have two great catchers that help me out with this kinda stuff and then the staff on top of it. They’ve made it really easy to be comfortable here.
“But no, I’m just on a roll right now. I did this last year. Once I get into a rhythm, it makes it a little bit easier, but I would say the biggest thing that helps me is just commanding the fastball and I’ve been doing that so far this year for the most part.”
That fastball success allows his sweeping slider to play off of it and have success. Thursday night, the Pirates whiffed three times on the pitch.
“Right now, it’s pretty honed in,” Wesneski said. “I’m spinning it. I have a good mindset with it. In the past, when I’m not throwing it really well, I’m babying it real bad. But right now, I’m staying real aggressive with it and it’s kinda ending up where I want it to go.”
That’s sure to continue to be a part of his pregame planning — to use his slider especially given how effective it’s been. And that preparation is something that the Cubs can hope to instill in other young arms across the system.
“That’s one thing that [pitching coach] Tommy [Hottovy] and I have talked about just like, those are the kind of things that you have to teach at the younger level,” Yan Gomes said. “When guys come up, they’re ready to go. They’re not just here to come throw. They’re all pitchers and they all will be held accountable with their stuff and take some ownership and you’re already seeing him doing that.”