Cuas looking to be driving force in Cubs' bullpen

Right-hander heads into Opening Day extremely confident, armed with new-look slider

March 26th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- Don’t get wrong. The Cubs right-hander wants his ascension from delivering packages as a FedEx driver to support his family during the COVID-19 pandemic to pitching in the Majors to be an inspiration for people who are chasing their dreams.

However, Cuas wants to prove that he is more than just the recipient of a feel-good story.

“It’s the story of my life and what I’ve been through,” Cuas said before the Cubs' 7-2 loss to the Cardinals in the spring finale on Tuesday afternoon. “But at this point now, I don't want to be known as, ‘Oh, the guy with a cool story.’ I want to be known as the lights-out reliever for the Cubs’ bullpen.

“I get the questions a lot about the FedEx stuff. I understand everyone wants a piece of the cake. But for me, I want the interviews to be about ‘Wow, great outing. What you’re doing on the mound is unbelievable.’ That's who I want to be known as.”

Since making his debut in 2022, the 29-year-old has transcended to be a reliable arm out of the bullpen, so much so that the Cubs acquired him at last year’s Trade Deadline in the middle of their postseason chase.

Getting traded to a playoff-contending team caught Cuas by surprise, but it boosted his confidence to a different level. He felt the pressure of performing at his best because of the talent he had around him in the Cubs’ bullpen and Cuas wanted to prove they made the right choice investing in him.

In 27 appearances with Chicago last season, he did just that. Cuas had a 3.04 ERA to go with 19 strikeouts and hitters averaged .205 against him. He gained the trust to be put in high-leverage situations when relief pitchers Adbert Alzolay and Michael Fulmer were on the injured list in late September.

“It was an opportunity to prove somebody right,” Cuas said. “The Cubs believe that I can help them and that's what I wanted to do, too. Last year [not making the playoffs] left a little sour taste for not accomplishing what we wanted to do. I think this year was that sour tastes make us do things differently.”

If Cuas provides an encore performance of what he did last year with the Cubs, he’ll be in a good position to be known as one the more dominant relievers in Chicago, regardless if it’s on the North or South side.

So far, Cuas’ success carried on into 2024. He led all Cubs relievers in strikeouts (15) and issued only five walks in 9 2/3 innings pitched in Spring Training. The sidearmer has always emphasized earning the manager’s confidence, and he plans to do that with new skipper Craig Counsell.

“My best ability is availability,” Cuas said. “To be a guy with the manager’s trust in the situation. Whether it’s a close game, an open game, or whatever the situation is.”

Cuas has already caught the attention of Counsell, who has a history of working with All-Star relievers such as Josh Hader, Devin Williams and Francisco Rodríguez during his time with the Brewers.

“He’s just proven to be the guy that is like, ‘Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it,’” Counsell said. “And that's a quality that helps the other guys in the bullpen, and that sometimes will be his job, to help those other relievers.”

Counsell also highlighted Cuas’ slider as one of the strongest features. Armed with a five-pitch arsenal, he primarily relies on a sinker, which he threw 49.7 % of the time last season.

The slider was his secondary pitch (23.3%) in 2023, but his main priority during the offseason. Cuas focused on changing his grip to have more movement on the ball while being able to punch it consistently in the strike zone.

Cuas is happy with the results, but said there is still room for improvement and he is confident that he’ll perfect it as the season progresses.

This is the second time Cuas has made the Opening Day roster. No matter how many other times in his career he’ll accomplish the achievement, he’ll always reflect on his journey since dropping boxes off at people’s doors.

With a new chapter of his career looming, Cuas is set on redefining his legacy on the mound.

“I'll let my performance do the talking,” Cuas said. “I’m excited. I’m ready. Cubs fans have a lot to look forward to this upcoming season.”