‘A start you can build on’: Cubs’ Hayden Wesneski regains feel for his best pitch

The Cubs beat the A’s 10-1 on Monday, with Wesneski putting together his best start of the season.

Cubs right-hander Hayden Wesneski held the A’s to one run through seven innings on Monday.

Cubs right-hander Hayden Wesneski held the A’s to one run through seven innings on Monday.

Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP

OAKLAND, Calif. — Rookie right-hander Hayden Wesneski didn’t feel like himself for the first few innings of the Cubs’ 10-1 victory Monday against the Athletics.

It was hard to tell.

Yes, he gave up hard contact in the first inning and a couple of more hits in the second, but that’s nitpicking. He then turned around and retired 15 consecutive batters.

‘‘Maybe . . . I’ll watch it and I’ll feel happier about it,’’ Wesneski said after the game. ‘‘But early I didn’t have the confidence. And then the third [or] fourth inning, I started getting into a rhythm, but it still didn’t feel great. But the sixth and seventh innings, they got me right where I needed to be.’’

Keep in mind, this was an outing in which Wesneski held the A’s to one run in seven innings. He bounced back from a rough first couple of starts — after which his ERA was 7.50 — to get back to the standard he had set late last season.

‘‘It’s a great thing to be your best critic,’’ veteran catcher Yan Gomes said. ‘‘But at the same time, we’re in the big leagues. Those are big-league hitters, so you’ve got to give yourself some grace.’’

The biggest difference between Wesneski’s first two starts and his outing Monday was his confidence in his slider.

Wesneski’s slider is best when he’s spinning it out in front. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy identified Wesneski’s mechanics had slipped a bit in that area, and they worked to correct the issue between starts. Sometimes subtle changes make all the difference.

Wesneski didn’t have a feel for his slider in his first two starts, so he didn’t use it as much. Last season, it was his most-used pitch (31.9 %), according to Statcast. To start this season, however, he threw his four-seam fastball more often than his slider (28.5%).

‘‘I know it’s my best pitch,’’ Wesneski said. ‘‘It’s just something that — to get ahead, to put away, it doesn’t matter — I need to be able to set all my other pitches up with that one.’’

Wesneski was falling behind in counts and laboring in his first two starts. The chase rate on his slider was 17.4%, compared with 32.1% last season.

‘‘It’s kind of a double-edged sword,’’ manager David Ross said before the game Monday. ‘‘When you’re not getting ahead, you’re trying to put the pitch a little bit finer, and then that can have you fall behind. And then you want to be a little more careful if [the slider] doesn’t have the shape you want.’’

Wesneski said leaning on the slider more was part of the game plan Monday, but he also had a feel for the pitch, giving him the ability to execute the plan.

‘‘He was making some quality pitches in that first inning,’’ Gomes said. ‘‘They just maybe surprised us a little bit with the approach. They were taking a lot of early swings, so we had to make an adjustment. And it was really good to see that from him — not put his head down, just still go back out there and pitch.’’

Of the 90 pitches Wesneski threw, 37 were sliders (41%). He got batters to chase it out of the zone at a 40% clip.

The Cubs’ offense gave Wesneski plenty of support. Patrick Wisdom homered twice, extending his streak to four consecutive games with at least one home run. He became the fourth Cubs player in the modern era with eight or more homers in 15 games to start the season, joining Lee Walls (1958), Hank Sauer (1954) and Gabby Hartnett (1925). Cody Bellinger went 5-for-5 for the first time in his career.

All the while, Wesneski progressively felt more like himself.

‘‘This is definitely a start you can build on,’’ he said.

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