Sat. Sep 30th, 2023

After a rough start to the season, KT Wiz is now sitting in third place and putting pressure on the top teams. Their second-half surge is frightening. With a 17-4 record in 21 games and a whopping 0.809 winning percentage, the second-place LG has a 0.667 winning percentage in the second half (12-6), so you can see where KT’s momentum is coming from.

The overwhelming strength of the pitching staff, especially the starters, stands out. In 21 games, the team has 16 quality starts (6+ innings pitched, 3 earned runs or less) and a team ERA of just 2.73.

At the center of it all is Cuevas. He’s responsible for four of the team’s 14 wins. He also has the most innings pitched with 32.

Since joining the team in 2019, Cuevas has gone 13-10. Unlike his former teammate Raul Alcantara, who failed to re-sign with the team on May 15 when they faced off at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, Cuevas stayed with KT and won double-digit games the following year.

He underperformed somewhat in 2021 with a 9-5 record and 4.12 ERA, but he has fond memories of coming in on two days’ rest in the season-ending tiebreaker against the Samsung Lions after throwing 108 pitches in seven innings to send the team directly to the Korean Series.

Cuevas roars after closing out the inning. /Photo=OSEN
In the Korean Series, he pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings to secure the victory and give KT its first overall title since its inception.

Last year, however, he was sidelined for the first two games of the season due to elbow pain. KT added Bo Schuler to its pitching staff this season alongside second-year outfielder Wes Benjamin, but Schuler struggled mightily with a 1-7 record and 5.62 ERA in nine games and was eventually released. KT eventually brought Cuevas back into the fold.스포츠토토

He didn’t last five innings in the first game, leaving a bit of a disappointment, but he quickly picked up the win in the second game with six innings of one-run ball, and his second-half form has been remarkable.

After picking up three wins in the second half of the season, Cuevas threw seven innings of two-hit ball, striking out seven and walking none in the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League opener against the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Friday. He earned his sixth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 3.13. Third-place KT has won three straight with a record of 54 wins, 45 losses and two ties.

He topped out at 152 mph and averaged 148 mph with 37 pitches, mixing sliders (27) and curves (20) with a changeup (12) and sinker (4) to keep Doosan hitters at bay. He struck out three batters with a 129 mph “slurve” (slider+curve) that he recorded as a curve, and added three more strikeouts with a changeup after the fifth inning.

Doosan’s Soo-Bin Jung rattled Cuevas in the bottom of the fourth. He drove in the first run with a bunt that took a surprising course. The next batter, Ahn Jae-seok, bunted for an easy out, but the league’s second-leading stolen base runner was overly conscious of the throw. The throw was dropped, allowing Ahn to reach third base.

KT William Cuevas. /Photo=OSEN
But he smiled at the defensive help. KT first baseman Oh Yoon-seok quickly scooped up Rojas’ one-bound hit. Jeong Soo-bin, the second baseman, was also out. The timing of the out was so perfect that even the video replay had to give it up.

With the pitchers on top of their game, the bats came alive. In the top of the fifth inning, Alford’s fly ball was hit toward the first base bullpen, but Doosan first baseman Yang Seok-hwan leaped and stretched his arm to catch the ball as it went into the bullpen. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Kim Jae-hwan’s fastball to center field was caught by KT second baseman Lee Ho-yeon with a spectacular diving catch and then sprayed the ball to first base to erase the hit.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, after Kim In-tae was hit by a pitch, manager Lee Kang-cheol made a surprise visit to the mound. KT’s bullpen was empty. He didn’t have a pitching change in mind. Instead, it seemed like he was trying to break up the tempo for Cuevas, who might be faltering.

Cuevas then used his underutilized changeup to strike out Park Jun-young to end the inning, and shortstop Kim Sang-soo caught Jang Seung-hyun’s deep grounder to second base for a run-scoring double play to nab leadoff man Kim In-tae.

In the top of the seventh inning, Kim faced Kim Jae-hwan on a full count and gave up a walk. It was his first walk of the day, but he gave up back-to-back walks to Kim In-tae on full counts. Doosan brought up Kang Seung-ho to pinch-hit for Park Jun-young, but Cuevas caught him off guard with a slider that skimmed the side of his body and dug into the strike zone. The pitch was so hard to handle that Seung-ho flinched, and Cuevas struck out Seung-ho on three pitches to end his perfect day.

Cuevas applauds his teammates for the big hit. /Photo: OSEN
Arkansas also struggled to put together a scoreless seventh inning, but the team’s bats came through in the eighth inning with the game-winning run.

“When I’m on the mound, I always try to enjoy the game, no matter what happens on the field,” said Cuevas, who was all smiles after securing the win. “Cuevas really pitched his best game,” said Lee. He gave us a chance to win the game.”

“I try not to think about it too much,” he said of his six-game winning streak since returning to the team. Even when I don’t have a good game, the team works hard to keep me from losing,” he said, adding, “I think the bats have been responsible for more than 70 percent of my wins. I’m one of nine guys, and it’s my job to always give my best on the mound. Of course, I’m very happy to be winless.”

Before I came back to Korea, I played in the minor leagues, but I wasn’t in the same shape as I am now. Since coming to Korea, he has improved. “The LA Dodgers (Triple-A) told me about the lower body movements that worked well with me,” Cuevas said. “They helped me a lot to throw better pitches with less effort on the mound, and I think that’s why I’m getting good results in the KBO.”

He’s looking forward to the future. “I don’t know exactly, but I feel like I’m getting stronger towards the end of the season than I did at the beginning of the season,” Cuevas said. “As the season goes on, I feel better and better, and I’m having a good August. I want to keep getting better and better. I’m very happy right now, but it would be great if I could do even better.”

Wes Benjamin. /Photo: KT Wiz

Ko Young-pyo. /Photo=KT Wiz
While Ko is at the peak of his powers and taking a self-imposed break, the stakes are high in terms of inclusion and exclusion. Wes Benjamin has cooled off a bit in August, but he still has the most wins on the team with 11 already this season.

The good-natured rivalry is bringing more positive energy to the team. “I always say that when you’re a family and you’re competitive, you’re happy when you do well, and then you want to do better,” Cuevas said, “and then you get greedy, and then you want to win. I think that’s a positive thing for the team.”

Cuevas and his players have their sights set higher. The second-place SSG Landers lost on the same day, cutting their lead to two games. Eight games separate them from first-place LG Twins.

“When I came to Korea, we were in seventh or eighth place,” Cuevas said, “but I always told the players not to worry, that we are a team that can go up at any time if we focus on playing every day and win a lot. I’m also always throwing while dreaming of the Korean Series.”

Cuevas being interviewed after the 15th win. /Photo by Ahn Ho-geun

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