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Hayden Wesneski dazzles with relief on his major league debut.  Will the Chicago Cubs give the rookie starts down the stretch?  – Denver Post

Hayden Wesneski explored his go-to visual at Wrigley Field hours before his major league debut.

He’s developed a routine for the times in the game he needs to breathe and pull himself together when, as he said, things go a little awry. During his breakout performance on Tuesday night, Wesneski looked to the spot he picked — the top of the left-field foul post — when he wanted to regroup.

“OK, let’s get back locked up and get out of here.”

Those situations seemed rare for the 24-year-old right-hander, who pitched five shutout innings in relief to left-hander Wade Miley. Wesneski limited the Cincinnati Reds to two hits, struck out eight and scored one for the Chicago Cubs 9-3 victory.

His performance prompted a smiling Miley – who allowed three runs (two earned) in four innings in his first start on the injured list – to walk into the media room for his postgame interview and wonder “Why do you want to talk to me? Did you see what that kid just did? I was only the opener.

In honor of Wesneski’s debut and first win, Miley had a bottle of Ace of Spades champagne waiting in the rookie’s locker room shortly after the game.

Wesneski became the first major league reliever since at least 1901 to debut with at least five scoreless innings while allowing two or fewer hits and totaling at least eight strikeouts. He is also the Cubs’ first reliever with at least five shutout innings and eight strikeouts since Tom Phoebus in 1972.

A vocal group of 15–20 Wesneski’s friends and family were located near home plate for the series opener, although his parents were unable to because his mother is ill. He couldn’t help but notice their energetic vibe while on the mound.

“Today was special,” Wesneski said. “I couldn’t have planned better. I mean, my friends and my family are here. I pitched really well. I don’t know what more you can ask for.

Wesneski admitted he got nervous every time before pitching, and Tuesday was no different. He knew he would replace Miley at the start of an inning, so his nerves were calmed until the third, when he started warming up in the bullpen.

“I try to make it as simple as possible,” Wesneski said. “The adrenaline will rise.”

Wesneski relied on a pitch mix of four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and cutter that threw the Reds’ hitters off balance. He recorded eight puffs and 12 strikes called on an effective 61-pitch outing.

“Coming in, we knew what he had, he’s got a terrific slider,” receiver Yan Gomes said. “But what impressed me the most was the composure and the ability to shoot. He knows exactly what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. His confidence there was definitely something that stood out.

Wesneski was buying breakfast at a gas station Monday morning — his options were scarce on Labor Day in Jacksonville, Fla. — when he got a call from Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey, l ‘ informing that the Cubs had called him.

“Breakfast went out the window as I tried to figure out what to do,” Wesneski said. “I cried a little bit, I mean I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to hide it, but it was really cool.

After getting the call, Wesneski nearly called Pevey back to make sure he was joining the Cubs.

“I hadn’t gotten a lot of texts from the big league, and I said to my dad, ‘I think I got called up? ‘” Wesneski said. “I wasn’t sure, like, I don’t have any text messages. He said, “Well, I can’t tell anybody until you figure it out for real.”

It all became real for Wesneski when he arrived at Wrigley Field on Tuesday and donned his home pinstripes with his name and No. 19 emblazoned on his back.

Wesneski’s arrival seemed inevitable at the end of the season after the Cubs acquired the 24-year-old from the New York Yankees before the trade deadline for reliever Scott Effross. Wesneski’s eligibility to be selected in the Rule 5 draft this offseason if the Cubs didn’t add him to the 40-man roster, combined with his performance in his last four outings for Iowa (2, 37 ERA and .143 average against in 19 innings), led to this opportunity.

President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer said Wesneski’s performance at Triple A was what the Cubs expected, other than a rocky first start (eight runs in 1⅔ innings).

“Since then he’s really stabilized and his stuff is real,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “The speed has increased. Obviously his slider is really good. He’s been really tough on right-handers. He’s going to be on the 40-man roster this winter and we were talking about the right time to bring them up, so it’s was like that.

Wesneski is considered a big league starter, but his first taste of the majors came out of the bullpen. He became the 15th Cubs player to make his major league debut this season.

This follows the path the Cubs used for Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson last season before returning to the big league rotation. Wesneski’s last appearance for Iowa on August 31 was a five-inning relief stint.

The Cubs told Wesneski a few days ago that they wanted to use him outside the bullpen to help control his innings.

“They just want to give me options,” Wesneski said. “We’ll see how it goes the rest of the year. I mean, we still have a month to get to work, but for now I’m out of the bullpen. It is very good. I’ve done it before and we’ll find out.

Hoyer hasn’t committed that the Cubs will want to watch Wesneski in a starting role at any point in the past four weeks. He cited the health of the Cubs’ other starters as a factor in that decision.

“Honestly, I could easily see it, but we’re kind of going to take it game by game,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to throw him in the bullpen and you could easily see a scenario where that happens. But we’re not going to force that.

Whether Miley can stay healthy, something he’s struggled to maintain this year, could factor into the Cubs starting Wesneski. Tuesday’s start was only the fifth of the season for Miley, who was limited by left elbow inflammation early in the season and left shoulder strain that has seen her miss the past three months.

Right-hander Adbert Alzolay remains a question mark for helping the Cubs over the next four weeks. A sprained right shoulder suffered before Alzolay arrived in spring training in March prevented him from making his season debut for the Cubs.

The Cubs would like to give him major league innings to better prepare him for 2023. Alzolay gave up one run in three innings in a Triple-A start to rehab on Tuesday, his third outing with Iowa. When asked where things stand with Alzolay’s rehab mission, Hoyer replied, “We’ll know a lot more after (Tuesday’s release), so we can talk about it tomorrow.”

The uncertainty of Steele and Thompson’s availability also figures to play a part in the Wesneski decision. Both pitchers are on the 15-day disabled list, Steele with a lower back sprain and Thompson with a lower back strain. Steele landed on the IL on Monday after still not feeling well throwing a bullpen session this weekend in St. Louis.

The Cubs won’t be rushing either pitcher back before the end of the season. Steele has already pitched the most innings (119) in a season in his professional career, while Thompson, at 104⅓ innings, is 25⅔ away from surpassing his career high.

Ideally, both would have more work to do before the season ends Oct. 5 in Cincinnati, but the Cubs won’t force the situation. The objective remains to ensure that they are in perfect health before the off-season. Hoyer isn’t worried about back injuries to Steele or Thompson.

“I would love for them to come back, but we’re not going to force it,” Hoyer said. “I mean, if it feels natural and easy, they can go up and back to the level they’re throwing at, we’ll do that. But we’re not going to force it if there’s any concern.

“The concern has to be getting these guys healthy for the offseason and ready to start their offseason conditioning. Both guys have real goals this offseason that they want to achieve.


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