Rookies Wesneski, Morel lead Cubs to another win over contending Phillies
After his third major league start, the question for Cubs rookie right-hander Hayden Wesneski is can he do this again in April?
Wesneski went 5 innings, allowed 1 run and was credited with the victory in a 4-2 win over Philadelphia at Wrigley Field. No immaculate innings this time, but he now has a 2.33 ERA through 27 innings since getting called up.
Based on how the second half of the season has gone, the Cubs might have a great start to their 2023 pitching rotation between Wesneski, Justin Steele (0.98 ERA post all-star break) and Marcus Stroman (2.92 in second half).
"That's a long ways away," Wesneski said when asked about next year's potential. "I've got to make the team first. I know how this is kind of going to go. I'm going to go in to the offseason, the Cubs are going to try to win next year and I would like to be part of a winning team.
"We're winning games now and it's really fun, right? To be a part of the rotation, I'd love that more than anything, but that's a little far away."
The Cubs have gone 34-29 since the all-star break and are 5-0 against the Phillies. If the Cubs go at least 4-3 during the final week, they can avoid losing 90 games on the season.
After joining the Cubs from the Yankees in the Scott Effross trade, Wesneski, 24, made his major league debut Sept. 6 against Cincinnati. After a couple of relief appearances, he shifted to starter and has been solid in every appearance.
"Wes has got as veteran presence about him," manager David Ross said. "His routine, his work, his mental aptitude. He checks a lot of boxes. He's a worker."
Ross compared Wesneski to Jon Lester in the sense that he has a dedicated routine to prepare for taking the mound. But Wesneski is not one of those surly, "don't break my concentration" type of pitching personalities. The Houston-area native is usually smiling in the clubhouse, when not locked into his routine.
He's already become renowned for his strikeout strut, where he takes a few quick steps off the mound. It's even more noticeable when he does it and a close call doesn't go his way.
That happened a couple times Wednesday and one of them appeared to be a bad call. Wesneski finished with 3 strikeouts against the Phillies, his lowest total per inning pitched since getting called up.
"I do talk to my dad after outings and he said that was probably the best outing I had where I didn't have my stuff.," Wesneski said. "I didn't really have my slider tonight and I was battling. They had some good at-bats, they're a tough lineup. I didn't feel I pitched great, but I pitched good enough.
"The sinker came back to help me out a lot. To be honest, I just kind of grinded through it. I don't know exactly what got me through the outing. I just tried to continue to fill it up and good things happened. I know that I'm better than that, that kind of hurts a little bit.
Two young pitchers, Brandon Hughes and Manuel Rodriguez, finished off the game, with Rodriguez collecting his fourth save.
The hitting star was another Cubs rookie. Christopher Morel homered for the second straight day, this time sending a 3-run shot into a wind in the fifth inning, breaking a 1-1 tie. It was Morel's 16th home run of the season.
Besides Kyle Schwarber leading off for the Phillies, the Cubs had some other 2016 celebrities on hand. Catcher Miguel Montero and pitcher Pedro Strop were both at Wednesday's game.
• Ross said pitcher Justin Steele, on the injured list with a sore back, threw an intense bullpen session and is planning to do one more, but probably won't be activated to pitch in another game this season. Ross does expect veteran Drew Smyly to get one more start.
• The Cubs announced plans to bring back the Cubs Convention on Jan. 13-15, 2023. The team did not reveal the location.