New Cubs right-hander Jose Cuas brings unique arm slot, story to bullpen

The Cubs acquired Cuas from the Royals before the trade deadline.

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Cubs pitcher Jose Cuas, right, celebrates with catcher Yan Gomes after defeating the Cincinnati Reds 16-6 on Wednesday.

Cubs pitcher Jose Cuas, right, celebrates with catcher Yan Gomes after defeating the Cincinnati Reds 16-6 on Wednesday.

Paul Beaty/AP

New Cubs reliever Jose Cuas threw the last pitch of his bullpen session Wednesday morning and turned to pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who nodded and gave him a fist bump. Cuas walked to the railing at the back of the bullpen mounds and perched on it as they talked.

“He’s very confident in what he can do,” Hottovy told the Sun-Times. “He’s confident in who he is. And when he’s out there, he’s aggressive, he’s got that aggressive mentality. And that’s something fun to pick up on right away. He’s not going to back down from any moment.”

The Cubs added Cuas to the roster on Wednesday after acquiring him from the Royals for outfielder Nelson Velazquez on Monday. To make room for him, the Cubs put right-hander Marcus Stroman on the 15-day injured list with inflammation in his right hip.

“Oh, it’s been wild,” said Cuas, who gave up a single and a walk but no runs in the ninth inning in the Cubs’ 16-6 win Wednesday. “From the phone call, my family’s excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t see this coming at all.”

He has had a chance to talk with the Cubs’ pitching coaches about his journey to this point, as well as his makeup as a pitcher.

“We want to get a read on where everything is, what your thought processes are, where your sightlines are on every pitch,” Hottovy said. “If there’s something we can help with right away from a setup perspective, or a view, or a thought process of where to use pitches, that’s where we want to start. And then if we start tweaking minor things — a grip on the slider, or a grip on the fastball — to help elevate those pitches, we’ll do that.”

Cuas delivers from a low arm slot, similar to former Cubs reliever Scott Effross. He throws a sinker, slider, four-seam fastball and a changeup. The four-seamer is a newer addition, something he has been working into his outings more consistently in the last two months, according to Statcast.

“It’s been a huge help to me, a great add to my arsenal,” Cuas said. “Still don’t have the full confidence in it that I would like, but the more I throw it, the more confidence I’m building in it.”

The pitch is showing promise, with a 50% whiff rate and opposing batters hitting .143 against it.

“With that type of slot, when you have four-seam you can ride at the top of the strike zone, it’s something we’re very interested in,” Hottovy said. “It’s something that Effross, once he started implementing that to lefties, really changed the trajectory of how his career was.”

Right-hander Jameson Taillon already had seen Cuas’ mix up close during the offseason at Adam Ottavino’s pitching lab in Harlem.

“I’m a pitching nerd,” Taillon told the Sun-Times. “So, we had the TrackMan set up, and I remember him having super good metrics on a couple of his pitches. It’s a good four-seam, good sinker, I remember the slider being sharp. I remember his sinker from his arm slot being pretty nasty.”

That sinker has been Cuas’ bread-and-butter pitch. But beyond what Cuas adds to the bullpen, Cubs players and coaches have gravitated to his story. His winding journey from being drafted by the Brewers in 2015 to being a Cubs target at the trade deadline included converting from the infield to pitching, playing independent-league baseball, delivering packages with FedEx, and seizing his opportunity with the Royals the last two seasons.

“I can’t tell you in one word what I’m feeling right now,” Cuas said Wednesday in front of his new locker in the Wrigley Field clubhouse. “Just that I’m excited to get out there and show these fans what I can do.”

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