Cody Bellinger, Hayden Wesneski lead Cubs to win vs. D-backs


PHOENIX — The stars were out, the streets were quiet, and Hayden Wesneski was fast asleep when he heard a knock on his bedroom door. It was his roommate and Iowa State 3A teammate Matt Mervis who came in and told Wesneski to check his phone. Vesneski was drafted into the army. It was 1 a.m. in Des Moines.

Fourteen hours later, the 26-year-old Cubs right-hander stood in the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field, sleep-deprived but adrenaline-fuelled. He got some sleep — at least as long as he could get on the plane — but he also just got 12 crucial outs. With the Chicago bullpen also struggling, Wesneski held off the Diamondbacks’ talented offense through four scoreless innings to seal the series victory, 5-3.

“This was probably our best pitching performance of the year,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said.

It’s definitely the clutch. After back-to-back extra innings and 10 2/3 innings of relief pitching, the Cubs started the day in dire need of new players, which is why Wesneski and reliever Colten The reason why Brewer was called up from Triple-A on such short notice. Wesneski arrived at the park about two hours before tipoff, taking a short break but knowing he would almost certainly pitch. When Cubs starter Jordan Weeks got one out in the fifth, Counsell went to Wesneski.

Over the next four innings, the right-hander stifled a Diamondbacks lineup that had scored 12 runs the night before. Relying primarily on a cleanup pitch and a fastball that topped 97.5 mph, Wesniewski allowed just one hit, allowing a one-out two to Randal Grichuk in the sixth inning. A hit and no bases loaded. He struck out two and allowed just two balls to leave the infield. Counsell rode him all the way into the ninth inning — during which time the Cubs built a three-run lead — and finally pulled out center field after Grichuk came on to start the final inning. Follow the pitcher.

Wesniewski left to a standing ovation from local Cubs fans.

“I don’t know how I’m going to sleep,” Wesneski said. “I think when I break, I’m going to break. But now, I’m excited.

It was indeed a long day. After being knocked awake by Mervis, he tried blinking a few times, but he was too excited to doze off. At 4 a.m., he went to the stadium to pick up his equipment, then headed to the airport to catch a flight to Phoenix. Wesneski said he and Brewer had just bonded, although he did take a nap in the air.

For his teammates, Wesneski’s adventure made his performance against the defending National League champions all the more admirable.

“It’s unbelievable. You see him come in and everybody’s confident in the dugout,” said Weeks, who allowed two runs in 4 1/3 innings. “He’s a hard worker. It’s really impressive to see him go out there and do it.

When the Cubs come home with the series victory, Wesneski’s reward may be a second flight to Chicago on the same day. But looming roster changes cloud the scene. Counsell confirmed after the game that right-hander Jameson Taillon will return from the injured list and start Thursday’s game against the Marlins. The Cubs need to make room for him.

Rookie right-hander Ben Brown has not been listed as a possible pitcher for the team, although Counsell said Brown will not be eliminated after his last two impressive outings. Javier Assad has performed well as a backup in the rotation and is scheduled to start Saturday against Miami. An unfortunate fact about the major leagues may resurface: When a roster spot is needed, it’s often the reliever who’s just eaten up a ton of innings — heroic though they may be — who is the odd one out. After all, he won’t be able to play again for the next few days.

If so, it won’t be unfamiliar to Wisniewski, who spent much of last year bouncing between the majors and minors. That was also the case this spring when he didn’t make the Opening Day roster. At the time, the Cubs thought it would be best to let him play at the Triple-A level, knowing that at some point they would need what he could provide. On Wednesday, they did, and Wesneski couldn’t have done more to rise to the occasion.

“We got a great performance from the guys we needed,” Counsell said. “It’s about guys getting opportunities and doing something special, and we did that today.”


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