Cubs’ Wesneski adjusting pregame routine to unlock ‘a better Hayden’

The Cubs pitching staff’s collaborative culture shows up as young pitchers refine their pregame routines.

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Cubs starting pitcher Hayden Wesneski throws against the San Diego Padres on Thursday.

Cubs starting pitcher Hayden Wesneski throws against the San Diego Padres on Thursday.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Cubs rookie right-hander Hayden Wesneski trimmed down his pregame routine Thursday before facing the Padres in the finale of a three-game series at Wrigley Field. It was something he’d been working on with his pitching coaches, but he also sought advice from rotation mate Marcus Stroman.

“I lean on Stro a little bit with certain things,” Wesneski said. “Because me and him are similar pitchers, we do similar things. And he’s been there, done that. He’s thrown a lot of innings, he’s eaten up innings. And some of the advice he’s told me is, throw a little bit less [before the game].”

The Cubs’ pitching staff has raved about its collaborative culture. During spring training, Stroman also took cues from Wesneski to get consistent horizontal movement on his slider, successfully implementing it in a Cactus League game that day.

Veterans’ influence on younger pitchers commonly shows up in pregame routines. Adjusting to the long major-league season is a process that pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and his staff have stressed with plenty of others before Wesneski.

As manager David Ross noted, “Our pitching guys do a really nice job of communicating and understanding, watching with this 30,000-foot view of, ‘OK, you’re out 15 minutes before every other starter and also warming up right until game time. How do we simplify that where you feel like you’re ready and also not doing too much?’ ”

The coaches also understand that a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work. Every pitcher has to feel out what’s best for him. Early last year, when right-hander Keegan Thompson was in a swingman role, he kept using his reliever pregame routine before spot starts.

“I can’t explain how valuable it is for a young guy to learn early that you don’t need to make extra throws just to get ready,” Hottovy said then.

As right-hander Adbert Alzolay has transitioned to a full-time relief role, he has pointed to veteran Brad Boxberger as an influence.

“He’s ready to pitch every single day,” Alzolay said. “So it was looking into his routine during spring training and then taking little things that I knew would help with my routine.”

Boxberger is notoriously stingy with his warmup pitches. During games, he said, he warms up with nine or 10 pitches on average when the phone rings, but it “can be quicker if need be.”

Now a nine-year veteran, he went through the process of converting from a starter to a reliever in the minors.

“The adaption has to come,” he said, “but everyone’s routine’s different, so just find something that works.”

Wesneski doesn’t expect to carry this specific routine throughout the season. He has tinkered with it before, and day-to-day factors will influence it. But the overall concept of conserving energy should hold.

“We have been minimizing a little bit, like, ‘Hey, do I really need that in my routine?’ ” Wesneski said. “And we’re getting ready for the game, not for the bullpen.”

Coming out of that tightened routine Thursday, he held the Padres to four hits and one run — a solo homer by Manny Machado — through five innings. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth.

“Not the best outing in my career,” he said. “But we’re inching more and more toward a better Hayden.”


Friday: Marcus Stroman (2-2, 2.17 ERA) vs. Jesus Luzardo (2-1, 3.62), 5:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM

Saturday: TBD vs. RHP Edward Cabrera (1-2, 4.91), 3:05 p.m., Fox-32, 670-AM

Sunday: Justin Steele (4-0, 1.19) vs. Bryan Hoeing (0-1, 9.82), 11:05 a.m., Peacock, 670-AM

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