Hayden Wesneski sparkles in start, but Cubs fall to Rockies in ninth

Hayden Wesneski’s preparation and sharpness validated his determination to earn a spot on the Cubs’ 2023 opening day roster.

And that’s exactly what manager David Ross has been looking for down the stretch with an influx of young but inexperienced players.

Wenseski’s seven innings of three-hit ball stood out Saturday in a 3-1 loss to the Rockies that snapped a four-game losing streak.

Since being promoted Sept. 6 from Triple-A Iowa, Wesneski has walked two while striking out 18 in 15 2/3 innings. More impressive was the manner in which Wesneski rebounded from his previous outing, in which he was tagged for three runs on four hits (including two home runs) in 3 2/3 innings in a Sept. 11 loss to the Giants.

“A beautiful outing,” said Ross, marveling over Wesneski’s sharpness and his ability to pitch effectively with his slider.

Wesneski, 24, retired 16 consecutive batters at one point and was so locked in that “I didn’t know what inning it was.”

Before the game, Ross tempered the excitement over the minor successes of the young players.

“There’s expectations I still have that we’re not meeting as a team yet,” Ross said. “I don’t want to lose sight of that. I want to continue it to be a privilege to get up here and play in the major leagues, and that’s something that’s hard to do in our organization.”

A blooper by Yonathan Daza near the right field foul line bounced over rookie Nelson Velazquez for a double in the first.

In the seventh, second baseman Zach McKinstry bobbled a grounder before skipping a throw past catcher P.J. Higgins that allowed C.J. Cron to score.

And the sequence became harrowing when shortstop Christopher Morel fired a throw that sailed past first base in an attempt to nail Elias Diaz, who retreated after momentarily tried to advance to second on McKinstry’s errant throw.

If the Cubs intend to dip into the free-agent market with ferocity, the two years of scholarships granted to players because of need and not merit could finally end.

For now, Ross is trying to teach and win, as evidenced by his late-game moves for defensive purposes.

“There are changes that happens, moves that are made and injuries that pop up,” Ross said. “In one way, all these things are great experiences for me. In another way, we got a long way to go.”

Despite a lack of quality sleep, Wesneski was alert in his pregame planning session.

“He had an idea of what he wanted to do, which is huge,” catcher P.J. Higgins said. “Especially from a younger guy. A lot of times they want to be told what to do.”

Wesneski, acquired from the Yankees Aug. 1 for reliever Scott Effross,might not receive another start this season, pending the health of left-hander Justin Steele (low back strain) and Keegan Thompson (low back tightness). But he will pitch in some form before the season ends.

“My stuff is good, and I know that,” Wesneski said. “If I keep throwing strikes with my stuff, I have a chance even when I’m not sharp with my stuff.”

Reliever Adbert Alzolay, making his first appearance since returning from a right lat strain, allowed a tie-breaking triple to Charlie Blackmon and RBI single to Diaz in the ninth.

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