Hayden Wesneski Used Sinker/Change Combo More Than Ever Against Nats

Hayden Wesneski hasn’t been as dominant in the regular season as he showed out in Mesa, but he’s had flashes of brilliance and is quietly putting together a nice stretch of starts. Including an outstanding effort in Oakland on April 17, the righty has allowed six earned runs (three in one start and one in each of three) with 13 strikeouts and two walks over 22.1 innings in four outings. Avoiding those bases on balls has allowed Wesneski to limit the damage from 19 hits, some of which have been pretty loud.

Much has been made of his lack of feel for the sweeper, which was on display Tuesday night against the Nats. After showing the ability to manipulate breaking balls and fastballs alike to multiple locations in the zone during spring training, Wesneski appears at times to be forcing his pitches rather than letting them happen. That leads to him missing his spots badly at times, though he’s been able to rein it in as those walk numbers show.

A big part of getting back into a groove is finding out what his routine should be, whether it’s pregame or on the four days he’s not starting. One of the first changes was cutting back on the number of pitches he threw to warm up, something the Cubs felt may have led to early fatigue.

“My work in between starts is getting a lot better,” Wesneski told reporters after the game. “We are starting to figure out what my game plan is. All these starters that are at the top of their game, their weeks are planned out. And we’re starting to get to a point now where I’m getting into the rhythm of, ‘Hey, we have to do this every week: this on the first day, this on the second day, third day.’ That kind of locks me in on certain things.”

Beyond that, Tuesday saw another shift in Wesneski’s performance when it came to pitch usage. Even with some allowance for the matchup, it looked like he had a different plan of attack than we’ve ever seen from him. Jim Deshaies and Boog Sciambi noted in the broadcast booth that he was throwing a lot more sinkers than usual, which is true, but he also mixed in a high number of early changeups to lefties.

Neither the 22 sinkers nor 12 changeups represent career highs for Wesneski, though the 34 total is the highest he’s had in the majors to this point. This also marks the first time his sinker was his most-thrown pitch, tying with the sweeper at the top. The closest he’s come previously was when he threw 27 sinkers with 28 sweepers back on September 28 of last season, though he only threw five changeups in that one.

One other very interesting note on the offspeed is that Wesneski averaged just 84.2 mph on it Tuesday night, easily the lowest of his 11 Cubs starts. What’s more, the velocity on his change has dropped each game and is down more than four ticks from the 88.3 mph he averaged in his season debut. That’s coming from a really small sample, though, as he threw just five changeups through his first three starts and 11 heading into the Nats game.

Whether and how Wesneski maintains these trends will be worth monitoring over his next few starts, though I suspect we’ll see the sweeper and four-seam continue to dominate for the most part. My biggest takeaway from this appearance is that he’s a young pitcher learning how to adapt between and within games to better utilize his repertoire based on what’s working at the time.

Improving his pitchability will give him a lot more to fall back on when his stuff isn’t quite there, and it’ll make him very potent when that sweeper is truly on point.

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