Cubs, Hayden Wesneski find adjustment that’s ‘starting to make everything clear’

After starting the season in the rotation, Wesneski is embracing a relief role.

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Cubs right-hander Hayden Wesneski threw two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Cubs right-hander Hayden Wesneski threw two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press via AP

The temptation to change the arm slot to manipulate a pitch makes sense. Sometimes the body moves toward a result without consulting the mind. And it can work.

‘‘But it’s very inconsistent,’’ Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said.

So Hottovy and his staff have been working with right-hander Hayden Wesneski to fight that temptation.

‘‘It’s not the perfect, done project,’’ Wesneski told the Sun-Times in recent weeks. ‘‘But I definitely got closer.’’

With right-hander Javier Assad in the rotation for the past couple of turns, relievers such as Wesneski have shouldered more of the multi-inning-reliever responsibility. The Cubs see Wesneski as a starter in the long term; he made the rotation out of spring training, after all. But this season also has been about development for Wesneski.

Early on, he was working to regain the shape of his slider, then to reintroduce his cutter, then to hone his execution. Now the Cubs have seen progress in the consistency of Wesneski’s release point.

‘‘I haven’t been scared to just, ‘Hey, let’s change this,’ ’’ Wesneski said. ‘‘It’s something that the really good ones do, and they do it faster than everybody else. . . . It’s been hard, and it will continue to be hard. But I’ll always have to change anyway, so why not get to it today?’’

That was his attitude when he first learned a cutter in the minors. He said he tried throwing the pitch in a game the next day.

Through that process, Wesneski is no stranger to release-point issues. His arm slot was always a bit higher for his cutter than it was for his sinker and slider. Ideally, a pitcher wants almost-identical release points for every pitch to make it harder for hitters to identify the pitch type.

Between trying to compete and being traded from the Yankees’ organization to the Cubs last season, it took until this season for Wesneski and his pitching coaches to prioritize honing the release point on all his pitches.

‘‘Same problem, different issue,’’ Wesneski said.

When Wesneski first moved from the rotation to the bullpen in late May, the change in pitching schedule gave him and the coaching staff time to address his thought process and routine along with his mechanics. The mechanics focused on his release point.

‘‘I would throw the pitch, and I was thinking, ‘Man, I have no clue where this is going,’ ’’ Wesneski said. ‘‘It didn’t feel consistent.’’

He could tell it was wrong, but he wasn’t sure exactly how. And fixing the issue became a battle of ‘‘feel versus real,’’ as Wesneski put it.

‘‘In order to adjust, I felt like I was throwing way over the top,’’ he said. ‘‘But in reality, it was right where I needed to be.’’

The process involved repetition and immediate feedback from a coach looking on during side sessions.

‘‘He took it great and then just took off from that point,’’ Hottovy said.

Wesneski carried his progress with him to Triple-A Iowa for a short stint. He remembers throwing what he thought was a really good changeup at one point, and the batter took the pitch. The feedback he got from hitters the next day suggested he might have tipped the changeup.

‘‘It’s something that I realized I can do not only with my sinker but with my changeup,’’ Wesneski said of the release-point adjustment. ‘‘So it’s one of those things where it’s starting to make everything clear. And I think a changeup would make my life a lot easier with lefties.’’

Lefties have been Wesneski’s Achilles’ heel this season. While right-handed batters have hit only .188 against him, lefties are batting .311.

‘‘This could really boost me right to where I need to be,’’ he said.

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