Jose Cuas’ offseason work in Adam Ottavino’s lab shows up in Queens

Cuas, a Cubs trade-deadline addition, is working on honing his slider with this new team.

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The Cubs acquired reliever José Cuas from the Royals before the trade deadline. File photo.

The Cubs acquired reliever José Cuas from the Royals before the trade deadline. File photo.

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NEW YORK — Cubs reliever Jose Cuas had never met Mets reliever Adam Ottavino before stepping foot in the veteran’s pitching lab in Harlem last offseason.

“It’s a perfect space,” Cuas said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “A tunnel where you get to throw your bullpens, TrackMan, Rapsodo. All the analytical stuff you want, he has it.”

Cuas worked out at The Lab about twice a week over the offseason, preparing for his sophomore season in the big leagues. He was with the Royals at the time and had no way of knowing right-hander Jameson Taillon, whom he overlapped with for a couple sessions in The Lab, would become his teammate four months into the season. All three pitchers — Cuas, Taillon and Ottavino — shared a field this week during a three-game series in Queens.

The Cubs lost two out of the three. The game Taillon started was their win. The right-hander held the Mets to two runs in seven innings. Ottavino threw a scoreless ninth inning in that game, but the Cubs held on to their one-run lead. In the series finale, Cuas held the Mets at bay for 1⅔ innings, and Ottavino surrendered a home run to Seiya Suzuki in the ninth, though the Mets held on to win by a run.

They were on opposite sides Thursday, but Cuas was still holding on to conversations he’d had with Ottavino in the offseason.

“The biggest thing was picking his brain, being able to talk to a veteran in the league who has done what I’m trying to do now for so long and had success doing it,” he said.

Ottavino opens The Lab’s doors to players from different organizations and various -levels of baseball.

“First it was a place for me to get better,” he said. “But then it just felt like a selfish thing if I didn’t at least give it as a resource to other guys, because I know the spot I was in.”

He knows what it’s like to struggle to find a convenient place to train indoors during the winter. He said he used to commute an hour each way to train on Long Island. And sometimes something like becoming a dad or having your offseason throwing partner move can derail an offseason. Now pitchers are expected to enter spring training already in shape and prepared to ramp up their throwing program.

“I’m lucky enough that I have the space and I have the ability to help out,” Ottavino said. “And I just want to be a part of the community. I know if I were a high school kid or a college kid and there were some major-leaguers that were throwing and inviting me to watch and throw a little bit and be a fly on the wall, I would have probably died over that opportunity.”

It was an important offseason for Cuas. He’d made it back to affiliated baseball in 2021 in the Royals’ farm system and debuted a year later. Now he wanted to stick.

“Good dude, hard worker,” Taillon said of his first impression.

Taillon, an analytical-minded pitcher who Ottavino said helps lend The Lab even more credibility, also glanced at Cuas’ pitch metrics.

“I remember his sinker from his arm slot being pretty nasty,” he said.

Ottavino was impressed with Cuas’ stuff, too.

“Way better than mine in the winter,” he said. “He’s really out there trying to get better, and throwing hard, and trying to figure out his breaking ball.”

Ottavino gave him tips on how to get more break on his slider. That’s a pitch the Cubs have identified as an area with untapped potential. He traditionally has thrown a gyro slider, but he played around with a sweeper in The Lab. Now he’s working with the Cubs’ staff to hone the shape of the pitch and figure out the most consistent version of it.

“There’s times where I’ll throw a sweeper and the next pitch is a gyro, but it’s an accident,” Cuas said. “I can’t really command that because I don’t know which one is coming out.”

It’s a work in progress, but one Cuas is committed to. He threw his slider more than any other pitch Thursday, according to Statcast. It generated four whiffs, including strike three to Brandon Nimmo and strike one to Francisco Alvarez as Cuas stranded two inherited baserunners.

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