Cubs News

Why the Cubs see Hayden Wesneski’s place in the bullpen — for now

1 year agoAndy Martinez

Long-term, there’s no question about how the Cubs view Hayden Wesneski: he’s a starting pitcher for the Cubs.

But that’s not where the organization needs him right now.

“But right now, just a little help down there with a group that’s scuffling a little bit,” manager David Ross said.

The Cubs recalled Wesneski on Tuesday afternoon and optioned reliever Michael Rucker to Triple-A Iowa.

“Stretching Rucker out consistently lately, him sucking down some innings for us was one, awesome, but just giving him a little bit of a break,” Ross said. “Getting Hayden up here and kinda resetting down there and just trying to find the right spots for him.”

Wesneski will likely be used as a multi-inning reliever, providing Ross the ability to reset his bullpen with a long relief appearance from him. The Cubs have really lacked that option this season, a role that Keegan Thompson thrived in last season and Adbert Alzolay was used in late in the season. Alzolay has been used in shorter burst this season and in higher leverage situations, like Tuesday night when he closed out the final 2 innings in the 1-run win over Tampa Bay. The Cubs were hopeful to use Thompson in that role and as a multi-inning reliever, too, but his difficulty in bouncing back — often needing more than a couple days to perform at his best — hampered Ross’ ability to use him more frequently. 

This year, the Cubs opened the season with Javier Assad in that long relief role, after he had some success in it with Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. But he struggled out of the gates, was optioned to Iowa and stretched back out as a starter. He’s since returned and been used in a multi-inning role out of the bullpen once again.

“We have a lot of trust in Hayden,” Ross said after the Cubs’ 2-1 win over the Rays on Tuesday night. “We had a fresh bullpen after yesterday. I definitely see Hayden in a multi-inning role with the lead out of the bullpen, hold things close. Got a lot of confidence in Hayden.”

The Cubs also value having more than one of those multi-inning relief options in their bullpen. Right now, Wesneski fits that role and is ready for it.

“Whatever they need,” Wesneski said. “We’re trying to figure that out. I think a month from now, we’re really gonna have an understanding of what’s going on a little bit more. This is what they want me to do right now. That’s what I’m here for. If it’s relieving, it’s relieving right now.”

While he was back down with Iowa, Wesneski focused and worked on hammering down his routine. When he was up with the big-league team, Wesneski had mentioned that he was trying to fine-tune his between-start process and day-of-game routine, focusing more on throwing fewer pitches so his arm was fresher. But it was hard to do that and compete at a high level and he struggled in his first time up in Chicago this season, pitching to a 5.03 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 39.1 innings across 8 starts.

“With all this going away, it’s a lot easier in the minor leagues to just focus on your craft and be like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to work on this,’” Wesneski said. “There’s not a lot of glam there so it’s easier to really focus on certain pitches and certain things and a routine. You don’t have the opportunities as much here where you’re trying to win every day.

“At some point, you give up a little development to win.”

And this stint in the bullpen shouldn’t be a concern for his long-term ability to be a starter for the Cubs.

“I think like we’ve seen a lot of success from guys— Justin Steele comes to mind — and being able to just transition and help the team out when we have plenty of starters,” Ross said. “That stuff could tick up. We don’t know what we’re gonna get out of the ‘pen, but I don’t think developmental-wise, there’s anything that gives us hesitation that he’s [not] gonna be great in whatever role we put him in.

“He’s pretty stubborn to what he does well and that’s a great thing.”

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