Chicago

What Hayden Wesneski’s debut season means for the Cubs in 2023

CINCINNATI — Cubs right-hander Hayden Wesneski thought he’d be finishing this season in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a Triple-A pitcher in the Yankees’ farm system.

Instead, he ended it on the mound at Great American Ball Park as a big-league starter for the Cubs.

‘‘If you had told me I’d be right here in this spot,’’ he said, standing in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse after holding the Reds to one earned run in six innings in the Cubs’ 3-1 loss Monday, ‘‘I’d tell you you were lying. . . . It’s just been a crazy year.’’

Wesneski has gone through plenty of transition in the last couple of months. First he went from the Yankees’ organization to the Cubs, dealt for reliever Scott Effross before the trade deadline. Then he made the move from Triple-A Iowa to the big leagues. He quickly transitioned from a multi-inning relief role to starting.

Wesneski finished the season with a 2.18 ERA in six major-league outings.

He threw at least five innings and allowed two runs or fewer in each of his four starts. And he ended the season on a strong note Monday.

‘‘I thought he threw great,’’ manager David Ross said,reflecting on Wesneski’s season. ‘‘‘Every outing, [he] gave us a chance to win, threw strikes, [showed] command of the zone with multiple pitches.’’

Wesneski’s strong finish has been a big part of the late success of the Cubs’ rotation. Between his emergence, Marcus Stroman’s return from the injured list and Adrian Sampson’s steadying presence in September, Cubs starters have posted the best ERA in the National League (2.88) since the beginning of last month, according to FanGraphs. And that was without Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson, who were limited by late-season back injuries.

On the back of that rotational success, the Cubs posted a 15-11 record in September, making it their first winning month since May of last season.

Asked last week whether he thought he belonged in the 2023 rotation, Wesneski didn’t jump to conclusions.

‘‘I’ve got to make the team first,’’ he said. ‘‘I know how this is going to kind of go: I’m going to go into the offseason, [and] the Cubs are going to try to win next year. And I would like to be part of a winning team. We’re winning games now, and it’s really fun, right? So to be a part of the rotation, I’d love that. I’d love that more than anything, but that’s a little far away.’’

Trying to win also means adding in the offseason. And adding a front-of-the-rotation starter would push back the Cubs’ more established arms and make those back-end roles more competitive.

No matter his role to begin next season, Wesneski made an impression quickly. Even in his start Monday, which wasn’t among his best, he limited damage.

The two runs that scored against him came in the third inning, when he walked Jose Barrero leading off and made a throwing error on a swinging bunt up the first-base line. The only other hit he gave up in the inning was a blooper into no man’s land in shallow right field for an RBI double.

He bounced back with three quick scoreless innings.

‘‘I thought he threw the ball extremely well,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Just little things cost him the game.’’

Add Wesneski’s third career quality start to his résumé behind his starting debut — when he allowed only two hits in five scoreless innings against the Reds — and an immaculate inning against the Pirates.

‘‘To be honest with you, those things are really cool,’’ he said. ‘‘But I’d rather be pitching in October.’’



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