3 takeaways from the Chicago Cubs’ West Coast trip, including Kyle Hendricks’ struggles and Christopher Morel’s stellar defense

PHOENIX — Hayden Wesneski’s phone kept buzzing with so many missed calls and text messages in the wee hours Wednesday that he eventually awoke to find it on the floor.

Thankfully, Wesneski got an assist from his Triple-A Iowa roommate Matt Mervis, who woke him up at 1 a.m. with a knock on the door to let him know their manager, Marty Pevey, was trying to get ahold of him. Wesneski immediately knew that meant a major-league call-up.

A long day that required a 4 a.m. trip to the ballpark to pick up his gear en route to the airport to fly to Chicago and then halfway across the country to Phoenix culminated in what manager Craig Counsell called the Cubs’ best pitching performance of the season. Running on little sleep and adrenaline, Wesneski tossed four shutout innings of one-hit ball without walking a batter in the Cubs’ 5-3 victory Wednesday against the Diamondbacks to secure the series win.

“It’s just one of the things where you just have to focus on the job,” Wesneski said. “It’s trying to make it as simple as that right? Like, I’ve gotta do this today. OK, let’s do it really good and figure it out and it worked out.”

A depleted Cubs bullpen was bolstered by much-needed reinforcements Wednesday. Following back-to-back extra-inning games, the Cubs called up Wesneski and Colten Brewer from Triple A. Left-hander Luke Little and right-hander Daniel Palencia were optioned to Iowa. Right-hander Julian Merryweather (rib stress fracture) was transferred to the 60-day injured list to open a 40-man roster spot for Brewer. Merryweather won’t be eligible to return until June 5.

The Cubs used all but two relievers in Tuesday’s 11-10 loss in 10 innings, only staying away from Héctor Neris, following three straight appearances, and Keegan Thompson, who threw two innings the night before. Over the last three games entering Wednesday’s series finale in Arizona, Cubs relievers combined to throw 267 pitches in 11 1/3 innings.

“We have to have able pitchers today and really just kind of through the weekend,” Counsell said.

Brewer, 31, made a good impression during spring training and brings big-league experience to the bullpen with 84 career appearances for three organizations. Among the nonroster invitees in camp, Brewer “definitely was somebody that we knew at some point would get here,” Counsell said.

Wesneski was in the mix to make the roster out of spring training, but the Cubs opted to have him go to Iowa and stretch out in case they needed a pitcher who could provide length. Wesneski has found success when used out of the bullpen, posting a 3.49 ERA in 25 appearances (49 innings) the previous two years.

“For these guys in Triple A, I mean, when you come up you’ve got to be ready to do whatever,” Counsell said. “We’ve asked Ben Brown to do that, it’s the same thing we’re going to ask Hayden to do. It’s really get outs, it’s not label myself as a starter or reliever. Let’s get people out.”

The three-city trip took its toll on the pitching staff, though the Cubs came out of the always challenging visit out West with a 5-4 record as they head home for a seven-game homestand.

A look at three takeaways from the Cubs’ West Coast trip.

1. Cubs need more from Kyle Hendricks

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks’ first four starts have been ugly, to put it mildly.

Hendricks hasn’t been giving the Cubs a chance when he’s on the mound and in the process has put up arguably the worst numbers in the league. Hendricks’ 12.71 ERA and minus-0.5 fWAR rank second-to-last and last, respectively, in MLB among the 175 pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings this season.

Hitters have feasted on Hendricks’ mistakes, slugging seven home runs off the veteran in 17 innings. He allowed 13 home runs in 137 innings last season.

“I just make a couple bad pitches and give up big slug,” Hendricks said. “I don’t know where that’s coming from, to be honest. Guys are just on it right now.”

Hendricks is scheduled to make his next start Sunday against the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field. With an off day Monday, multiple pitchers stretched out and Jameson Taillon coming off the injured list to start Thursday, Counsell was asked whether it was a possibility they’d skip Hendricks’ turn.

“I think frankly, all of our pitching stuff is we’ve got to get through every day,” Counsell said. “And then we’re in a tough enough spot, right? We’ve just got to get through the day and then reevaluate it and make an assessment going forward. We’re going to need Kyle’s innings in his next start.”

Hendricks is known for his slow starts to the season, as evident by a career 5.58 ERA in 37 career starts in March/April, which is more than a run-and-a-half higher than his next-worst month. His struggles can’t continue to compromise the bullpen, though. The Cubs can show some patience while Justin Steele remains sidelined, but if Hendricks can’t turn things around sooner than later, tough conversations await.

2. Christopher Morel shows why he could be great at third base.

The full-time transition to third base has had its rocky moments for Christopher Morel.

It was clear in spring training that Morel would have highlights and lowlights playing regularly at third. The Cubs, however, are committed to giving Morel a real chance to stick at the position while keeping the designated hitter spot open to rotate players in the lineup.

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Morel delivered his best stretch of defense on this road trip, making strong, accurate throws and, just as importantly, knowing when not to try to force a throw. His defensive performance certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the Cubs, especially the pitchers he played behind.

Shifted toward shortstop with Diamondbacks lefty Jace Peterson at the plate, Morel went to his right and backhanded a soft bouncer down the line, and in one motion fielded the ball and threw a dart to first base as his momentum took him toward the foul line. He looked smooth making the difficult play, one of multiple standout defensive sequences during the nine-game trip.

Morel will need to continue to make more positive than negative plays at third base as the season progresses, but his performance was an important development.

“He had a heck of a road trip defensively for sure,” Counsell said. “Played it really flawlessly, thought he made some real heady plays too. I think his pace is improving, obviously made some spectacular plays.”

3. The offense must collectively continue to step up.

The Cubs can’t replace Seiya Suzuki’s production with just one player while he is sidelined for roughly four weeks with a right oblique injury.

They need more production from players like Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner to help collectively overcome his absence. They finally started seeing more of that by the end of the trip when the Cubs’ offense broke out for 11 runs Tuesday and put up five more in Wednesday’s win.

“As a unit and as a squad, you’ve got to come together and continue finding ways to win and I think we’ve done a good job of that,” Bellinger said.

Hoerner recorded a multi-hit game in two of the Cubs’ last three, featuring a four-hit night during Tuesday’s extra-innings bonanza. Happ finally broke out with his first home run of the season, a grand slam that temporarily gave the Cubs lead Tuesday. Bellinger tallied four hits in his last four games, including a home run Wednesday, after opening the season 9-for-54 (.167) that featured some tough luck (.167 BABIP).

The Cubs need more of that production to help the pitching staff and lessen the sting of Suzuki’s absence.

“He’s grinded through it and he’s close,” Counsell said of Bellinger. “I know he’s close and you see some swings like that and it makes you think so.”