Hayden Wesneski’s Solid Start and Incremental Progress

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

That’s exactly how it felt watching Hayden Wesneski face the San Diego Padres yesterday. He offered that review to the Sun-Times after his 5.0 inning, one run, four hit, one walk, three strikeout performance. Incremental progress. That’s what we want to see. Yes, the Cubs need Wesneski to get results, because they’re trying to compete and win right now. But the reality is that this necessarily also has to be a developmental period for Wesneski. Yesterday’s start was what you wanted to see on both fronts.

I don’t think Wesneski had his best stuff yesterday. The command was not pristine. There were too many times he fell behind hitters because of non-competitive balls. He got away with some mistakes. He didn’t go deep. So on and so forth. But he did face down one of the best lineups in the league, he located quite a few pitches very well, he was able to use his cutter consistently, he had a solid 26% CSW, he wasn’t giving up walks, and he generally wasn’t giving up rockets. There was a lot to like about the start, and you’ve gotta believe it felt good to face down those guys and get positive results.

One concrete thing Wesneski is working on, according to the Sun-Times? Reducing his pre-game work. Learning that maybe he doesn’t need to throw quite as many pitches before he gets out there for the game. That might be the reverse from what you were expecting, given that Wesneski has sometimes struggled early before settling in. But there are a lot of veterans on this staff who know how to prepare well, and then you’ve got a pitching infrastructure with a lot of experience, too. I think there are some quality guardrails in place to help Wesneski learn what can work best for him, even if, in some cases, it’s “less is more.”

The whole thing is just another reminder of the need for development this year, in parallel with competing. I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time, but I was clearly expecting too much out of Wesneski from the jump, in terms of him already being a mid-rotation finished product. That was silly. We know young starting pitchers go through this process as they adjust to big league hitters, then the hitters adjust back, and so on and so forth. It wasn’t that long ago that Justin Steele was still figuring out how best to use his pitches, and now look at the guy.

The Cubs probably can’t have quite the same level of patience with Wesneski this year as they did with Steele in 2021 and early 2022, for example, but they also don’t need Wesneski to pitch like an ace. If he can just keep showing incremental progress and giving the Cubs outings that keep them in the game most of the time, that might be enough to accomplish the twin goals of development and competitiveness. (And then you cross the Kyle Hendricks bridge when that comes.)

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Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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