Hayden Wesneski made his first career start Saturday afternoon, twirling a gem that saw him allow just one run on three hits while walking none and striking out seven over as many innings. He ended up with a no-decision after splitting his first two relief appearances, though he clearly pitched well enough to have earned a win under different circumstances.
That’s a pretty strong audition for a rotation that has spots very much up for grabs next season.
“It crosses my mind,” Wesneski admitted to reporters after the game. “But we’ve got a long ways before that happens. …With all this going on, it kind of just puts my head away from what I should be doing in the future. I’m just trying to stay here day by day, to be honest with you.”
Adbert Alzolay made his first appearance of the season Saturday afternoon, striking out the side on 19 in relief of Wesneski in the 8th. The following frame wasn’t nearly as successful, with the righty allowing two runs on a walk, triple, and single before notching two more Ks to end the late rally. Alzolay will continue in a bullpen role for the remainder of the season, just like the last month of 2021, and he could stay there moving forward.
“We’re building something. We’re trying to win,” Alzolay said, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. “So for me, if my role is best out of the bullpen — being a long guy, being a guy that can throw in the eighth, or close the game or whatever — I feel like I have the weapons to do that.
“And then, I feel it’s more versatility for the team and for the manager also. I feel like there’s a lot more options there. And then that allows the team to go on and be aggressive during the offseason.”
Getting 12 strikeouts and one walk from a pair of homegrown pitchers is impressive enough on its own, then you realize the Cubs have several other MLB-ready arms who can have an impact next season. The organization has long displayed an ability to cobble a bullpen together from veteran scraps, but may soon be able to construct a relief corps headlined by young pitchers who throw hard and miss bats.
They’ve also got plenty of rotation options, which lends credence to the idea I’ve been pushing for a while about making some philosophical tweaks to the way they use pitchers. The Cubs have struggled all season long to get depth from their starters and David Ross has had to lean heavily on the bullpen, often shuffling relievers in and out or asking them to throw multiple innings even when that might not be the best strategy.
In each of Wesneski’s appearances, however, the Cubs have effectively needed just two pitchers. With the exception of the lone out Rowan Wick was asked to get against the Giants on September 11, Wesneski either piggybacked Wade Miley or gave way to Alzolay. That could just be a matter of good fortune and it’s certainly a function of Wesneski earning the “Was Nasty” moniker I’m trying to force into the nomenclature, but the Cubs should be planning to get the most out of a group of would-be starters who can’t all start.
That will be a near certainty if Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins indeed pursue some of the names at the top of free agency, with Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodón, and Koudai Senga all being mentioned as potential targets. Working with more of a non-traditional pitching model maintains depth that can mitigate health concerns that are evident with any pitcher and especially the two stateside aces mentioned. I mean, you can’t simply replace deGrom, but having depth enables the Cubs to take bigger swings at the market.
What’s more, the increased potential to complete games with just two or three pitchers leaves the middle-inning and high-leverage guys fresh for when they’re truly needed. Assuming, that is, the Cubs are able to put themselves in enough competitive games that late relievers might need a break now and then.
Then there’s the notion that having a few pitchers carve out spots for themselves opens things up for the front office to deal from that depth. The reality is that it’s impossible for every prospect to work out for the Cubs, whether they simply don’t make it or are dealt to acquire players who address more pressing needs. No matter what angle you view it from, and maybe you see it from several at the same time, Saturday’s game offered a glimpse of the Cubs’ future.