Roster analysis: Cubs option Hayden Wesneski, put Brad Boxberger on IL to call up bullpen reinforcements

The Cubs recalled Jeremiah Estrada and selected right-hander Nick Burdi from Triple-A Iowa.

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The Cubs put right-hander Brad Boxberger on the 15-day IL Monday with a strained right forearm.

The Cubs put right-hander Brad Boxberger on the 15-day IL Monday with a strained right forearm.

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

HOUSTON — The Cubs’ back-to-back blowout losses in Minnesota led to a series of roster moves Monday as they reinforced their taxed bullpen.

They optioned right-handed starter Hayden Wesneski to Triple-A Iowa and put veteran reliever Brad Boxberger on the 15-day injured list with what they called a strained right forearm. They recalled Jeremiah Estrada and selected right-hander Nick Burdi from Iowa. And to make room on the 40-man roster for Burdi, they transferred Adrian Sampson (right meniscus) from the 15-day IL to the 60-day IL.

The moves sent a young pitcher down a level to hone his execution, raised timeline questions about a veteran’s health, gave a rookie another chance to showcase his stuff and wrote another chapter in a reliever’s path back from injury.

Wesneski won his spot in the rotation with a strong spring performance, but he has had an up-and-down season.

“It’s more about the need that we have right now, with a couple guys in the bullpen not 100%, and trying to have him go down and get a little reset,” manager David Ross said. “And I’m sure he’ll be back real soon.”

Wesneski had just started to hit his stride — three straight starts of five or more innings, with one run allowed in each — when he tossed a clunker Saturday against the Twins, contributing to the bullpen conundrum.

“This happened, right?” team president Jed Hoyer said. “He has [minor-league] options. He’s young. But he’s going be up here. He’s going to make a lot of starts for us this year. And he’ll be here for a long time. So there’s no real level of concern whatsoever. I just think he needs to execute a little better.”

Wesneski’s demotion doesn’t necessarily mean veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks (strained right shoulder) will be back right away. Hendricks threw five-plus innings in a rehab start Sunday, building up to 79 pitches, and has been effective in two outings since returning to Chicago last week to tweak his mechanics in a bullpen session.

“Unclear on the exact date or anything,” Hoyer said of Hendricks’ return, “but he’s going the right direction.”

The Cubs are off Thursday and next Monday, so they don’t need a fifth starter yet. Hendricks likely will throw another bullpen session with Chicago before his next start, which is expected to be another rehab outing, barring any developments that would affect the timeline.

Boxberger’s timeline is also up in the air. He kicked off the season strong but has been struggling as of late, posting a 9.64 ERA in May. He has been dealing with multiple ailments throughout the season, Ross revealed Monday.

“He had some groin stuff going on, where some mechanical issues kind of creeped in,” Ross said.

After Boxberger righted the mechanical slippage, his forearm issue emerged. Boxberger told the Sun-Times he started feeling soreness about two or three weeks ago.

“Then it kind of snowballed a little bit,” he said. “But I’m back on the right track. Just got to get over this little speed bump.”

If Boxberger doesn’t feel better after a couple of days of rest, the Cubs will “probably look at it more closely,” Hoyer said.

With Boxberger out, Estrada begins his second big-league stint of the season. He impressed last year with the life on his fastball. He hadn’t given up a run in three appearances before the Cubs recalled him Monday, inserting him in the seventh inning against the Astros.

“We all know how special the fastball is, and he’s done a really good job of executing that in the locations he needs to,” bullpen coach Chris Young told the Sun-Times. “And I think the breaking balls keep getting better. It seems like every time he comes back up, the breaking balls are a little bit better.”

Burdi has taken a unique path back to the big leagues. He made 16 appearances for the Pirates between 2018 and 2020 but underwent his second Tommy John surgery after the 2020 season. The Pirates designated him for assignment weeks later.

In the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft this winter, the Cubs selected Burdi from the Padres in the second round.

“He’s always had an incredible arm, going back to [the University of] Louisville,” Hoyer said. “He throws 100, and it was about health and about strikes, and he’s done both those things really well for us.”

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