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Hayden Wesneski impresses in his Cubs debut

Ryan Herrera Avatar
September 7, 2022

Wade Miley walked into the Cubs’ interview room Tuesday, ready to answer questions from reporters after making his return following nearly three-month long stint on the injured list.

It was Miley’s first start in a Cubs uniform since June 10, when he left the field at Yankee Stadium after feeling discomfort throwing warmup pitches before the bottom of the fourth inning that day. Miley was supposed to be a dependable starter who’d give the Cubs a veteran arm to put on the bump every give days. But that start against the Yankees was only the fourth he’d made all season as multiple IL stints keep him off the field for a majority of the year.

So this was an anticipated return for Miley in order to see if he could make it through the last four weeks of the season healthy. As anticipated as it was, though, Miley wasn’t the story of the night. And he seemed to understand that.

“Why do you want to talk to me?” Miley joked following his four-inning outing in the Cubs’ 9-3 over the Reds. “Did you see what that kid just did? I was just the opener.”

“That kid,” of course, is Hayden Wesneski.

As the return in the Cubs’ surprise trade of Scott Effross to the Yankees at the trade deadline, the 24-year-old Wesneski was deemed close to major league ready before he’d even thrown a pitch in the Cubs’ system. Still, he had to bide his time in the minor leagues while waiting for a call he was hoping would come sooner rather than later.

On Monday morning, Wesneski was just looking for some breakfast while Triple-A Iowa was in Jacksonville, Fla., during the team’s off day. The place he was looking to go to was closed, so he ventured to a gas station to find something to eat. And while he was there, he got a call from Iowa manager Marty Pevey. That was the call he’d been waiting his entire baseball life to receive.

“I teared up a little bit. I’m not gonna lie, I’m not one to hide it,” Wesneski said of Pevey telling him he was getting called up to the big leagues. “It was really cool. Honestly, it’s funny, I almost called him back and I go, ‘Are you sure?'”

The next call Wesneski made was to tell his dad the news, but even then, he still wasn’t completely convinced he’d heard Pevey correctly.

“I hadn’t gotten any texts from the big-league side, and I told my dad, I go, ‘I think I got pulled up?'” Wesneski recalled. ” I wasn’t sure, I haven’t gotten any text messages. He goes, ‘Well, I can’t tell anybody that until you figure it out for real.'”

Oh, it was for real all right, and as Miley’s return came to an end, it was Wesneski who manager David Ross turned to to keep the Cubs in it as they trailed 3-1.

Wesneski didn’t just keep the Cubs in it. He dominated. Take this stat, straight from CHGO Stats & Info, for example:

Yes, it took a few qualifiers to reach that outcome, but it is indicative of the show Wesneski put on in his major league debut.

His eight strikeouts on the night were the most of any Cub in his debut since Thomas Diamond’s on Aug. 8, 2010. He’s only the third pitcher across MLB since 2000 to toss five innings of scoreless relief in his first big-league appearance.

He was able to show his full repertoire in the outing as well. He threw all five of his pitches, dominated by the 26 sliders (Statcast tracked the pitch as a curveball, but Wesneski said he considers it a slider) that generated four whiffs and five called strikes and finished off half of his punch outs.

When Wesneski was acquired by the Cubs, the focus turned to when he would eventually get the call to the bigs. And on Tuesday, he lived up to the hype.

“[Assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos] knows about his makeup and said he has this kind of mentality of he just wants to compete and put it all out there,” Ross said. “I love the way he attacked the zone. I love the way he had confidence in multiple pitches, in and out. Got a lot of first pitch swings there at the back end. Just let him kind of [go into] cruise control. Wasn’t a whole lot to do. It was fun just to sit back and watch him have a nice performance.”

Wesneski said he still gets nervous every time he pitches. Even though he’s finally gotten the first one in the big leagues out of the way, he doesn’t see the nerves ever going away. That’s why he makes sure to find a spot in the park to look at to help him refocus on the task at hand.

At Wrigley Field, it was the top of the left-field foul pole. He certainly didn’t need to use it that often, but when he allowed the first two hits of his career in the top of the ninth, he took a look at the spot and told himself: “OK, let’s get locked back in.”

Getting overwhelmed by the emotions and the adrenaline and the nerves of making your MLB debut isn’t far fetched for any rookie.

It’s the moment these players have worked their whole lives for. It’s the moment where they can say everything they’ve had to go through has been worth it. But it’s also still a moment they’ve never experienced, a stage on which they’ve not yet proven themselves. So it’s easy to think a rookie can let it get to them.

But that never happened for Wesneski. All he had to do was look out at his hand-picked spot, take a breath and lock back in.

“What impressed me the most was the composure and the pitch ability,” said Yan Gomes, who was behind the plate for Wesneski’s entire outing. “He knows exactly what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. His confidence out there was definitely something that stood out. It’s one of those things you look at getting called up and let the moment hit you, and he definitely had tremendous composure out there.”

Now, it’s over. The first one is out of the way. Wesneski can officially call himself a big leaguer and can just try to establish himself at the level.

But Tuesday will always be the day he got his first crack in the majors. He had around 18 friends and family members (not including his parents, who he said couldn’t make the trip because his mother is sick) on hand to see him take the mound at Wrigley Field for the first time.

Regardless of what the rest of the season and beyond have in store for him, Wesneski’s major league debut was about as good as it gets.

“Today was special. I couldn’t have planned it any better,” Wesneski said. “I mean, my friends and family here. I threw really well. I don’t know what more you can ask for.”

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