PITTSBURGH — With an immaculate inning on the line, Cubs rookie Hayden Wesneski went back to his slider down and away. Pirates catcher Jason Delay swung over it, securing Wesneski’s place in the club’s record books.
“It’s crazy,” Wesneski said after the game. “You start thinking about it the seventh, eighth pitch. And then the ninth one you kind of let it rip and hope it happens.”
In just his fourth major-league outing, he threw the fifth immaculate inning on record from a Cubs pitcher. It was the first since LaTroy Hawkins’ in 2004 against the Marlins. Lynn McGlothen (1979), Bruce Sutter (1977) and Milt Pappas (1971) are the only other Cubs pitchers known to have thrown an immaculate inning, according to team historian Ed Hartig.
“It shows the kind of pitcher that he is,” said veteran catcher Yan Gomes, who had caught four other immaculate innings before setting up behind the dish for Wesneski on Thursday. “He has a great arsenal.”
In the Cubs’ 3-2 victory, Wesneski achieved the feat by striking out Jack Suwinski, Zack Collins and Delay in the fifth inning, on nine strikes. The pitch that dealt the final blow was also one Wesneski worked to refine last week.
“What makes me excited about him is it’s not just the pitcher that we’re getting,” assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “It’s the pitcher that we could potentially have in the future. Because when he’s not good at something, he wants to work on it, he wants to find the problem, what didn’t lead to success or what led to success. Let’s continue to do that, or let’s work on the adjustment. He’s just got a good head on his shoulders.”
Moskos had worked closely with Wesneski when they overlapped in the Yankees’ organization. But the rookie has made a strong early impression since the Cubs acquired him the day before the trade deadline for reliever Scott Effross. Wesneski threw five scoreless innings out of the bullpen in his major-league debut against the Reds early this month. But in his second outing, he kept leaving his slider over the plate, and the Giants got ahold of it for a pair of home runs.
“That’s an issue he’s run into at times previously in his career,” Moskos said. “And you see just how impactful the difference is. He had a good strike slider, but he didn’t have the put-away slider. He just wasn’t able to get it to his glove side.”
Wesneski made the adjustment by his outing in his first major-league start. He made sure his early misses with the slider were comfortably off the plate, and then he worked in from there. He generated five whiffs with his slider, on his way to seven innings of one-run ball against the Rockies.
In a conversation with the Sun-Times this week, Wesneski shrugged off the quick adjustment as something he’d done before, with an array of pitches.
“It’s one of those things that you keep tally of in your head,” he said. “Like, ‘Hey, this pitch is going here a lot. Look, I’m tired of it going there. Let’s move it.’ Right? Eventually you’ve just got to stop being so stubborn and say, ‘I’m not throwing it here. I don’t care if it goes to the backstop, I don’t care if it goes 40 feet; it’s not going where it’s been going.’ ”
On Thursday, Wesneski held the Pirates to two runs in 6„ innings. And the slider, in all of its forms, played a big role in his immaculate inning.
He struck out Suwinski, a left-handed hitter, on a backdoor slider that hooked into the zone for a called third strike.
Facing Collins, another lefty, Wesneski followed a first-pitch changeup and two sliders down and in. After watching the changeup, Collins whiffed on the first slider. He let the second go for a called third strike.
Against Delay, a right-handed hitter, Wesneski threw a 0-1 slider that ended over the heart of the plate. Delay froze. Then, it was time for Wesneski’s put-away slider.