Picking out what to eat for breakfast among the aisles of a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, falls by the wayside when a call comes in about a big-league promotion. At least, that’s what Cubs right-hander Hayden Wesneski found Monday, his dining options limited because of the Labor Day holiday.
The next day, he was standing on the Wrigley Field mound, watching Reds hitter Jose Barrero whiff at his slider for the final out of the Cubs’ 9-3 win. He is the first reliever in the modern era (since at least 1901) to throw at least five scoreless innings while allowing two or fewer runs and striking out at least eight batters in his MLB debut.
“Today was special,” Wesneski said. “I couldn’t have planned it any better.”
Triple-A Iowa coach Marty Pevey broke the news of the call-up Monday to Wesneski over the phone.
The Cubs put left-hander Justin Steele on the 15-day injured list with a low back strain Monday. He wasn’t recovering from his bullpens quite like the team hoped he would, so the Cubs played it safe and gave him a longer runway to return. That opened an opportunity for Wesneski.
“I teared up a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Wesneski said.
Wesneski almost didn’t believe it, to the point that he debated calling Pevey back. Forget breakfast. He grabbed a cold brew and called his dad.
Wesneski, whom the Cubs acquired from the Yankees for reliever Scott Effross on the eve of this year’s trade deadline, has traditionally been a starter. But in his last outing with Triple-A Iowa, he threw five scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
On Tuesday, he took over for lefty Wade Miley, who was making his first start back from the 60-day IL, in the fifth inning.
When Miley entered the interview room after the game, he quipped: “I don’t know why you want to talk to me. Did you see what that kid just did?”
Wesneski retired 13 of the first 14 batters he faced. In five scoreless innings, he limited the Reds to two hits, all in the ninth inning.
“What impressed me the most was the composure and the pitchability,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “He knows exactly what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. His confidence out there was definitely something that stood out.”
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, when asked if he’d like to see Wesneski start a major-league game before the end of this season, said it depends on the health of other Cubs pitchers.
“I could easily see that,” Hoyer said. “But we’ll take it game-by-game. We’ll start him in the bullpen, and I could easily see a scenario where that happens. But I’m not going to force that.”
The Cubs have two starting pitchers on the 15-day IL: Steele and Keegan Thompson (low back tightness). Thompson’s timeline to return is still up in the air.
Steele left his last start, on Aug. 26 at Milwaukee, with low back tightness. He then was put on the restricted list for the series in Toronto because of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements and rejoined the team in St. Louis. The IL move is retroactive to Friday.
“The bullpens went fine, it just wasn’t all the way loose,” manager David Ross said. “So thought it made some sense to just plan with a little bit of caution, making sure he’s 100% for when we get him back. I don’t think it’s any kind of extended IL, but we’ll wait and see.”