This spring, Salem right-hander William Cuevas made the jump from short-season ball to the Class A Advanced Carolina League, and fellow right-hander Heri Quevedo entered the year having never thrown a professional pitch on U.S soil.
Pitching coach Kevin Walker thought it might take both guys time to find success in Salem. Sunday, he saw both 22-year-olds make quick progress in that direction.
The duo combined to one-hit Lynchburg in a 1-0 victory that gave Salem a three-game series sweep. Cuevas (1-1) started, allowing one hit and striking out four in five innings, and Quevedo followed up by retiring 11 straight and fanning six in four hitless innings for his first pro save.
Cuevas, a Caracas, Venezuela native, entered Sunday with a 10.57 ERA after compiling a 1.40 ERA in 15 appearances with Lowell in 2012. He struggled mightily in his Salem debut on April 9, allowing eight earned runs in 2 2/3 innings at Potomac. Walker attributed the rough outing to Cuevas' timidity in attacking Carolina League hitters.
"He just needs to trust his stuff and be confident in what he has," Walker said. "He needs to be aggressive with his stuff, mixing in offspeed and working more in the strike zone."
The 22-year-old made strides in his second outing, striking out seven Potomac hitters while allowing an earned run over five. Sunday's outing was a continuation of that, Walker said.
The 6-foot, 160-pound hurler walked leadoff man Matt Lipka and the Hillcats' center fielder advanced to second base on a wild pitch two batters later. But the right-hander struck out William Beckwith and induced a groundout from Robby Hefflinger to end the frame.
The Venezuelan native pitched cleanly through the second and third, with the only baserunner reaching via a throwing error by third baseman Garin Cecchini. Cuevas walked Beckwith and allowed a single to Hefflinger to begin the fourth, but then struck out Kyle Kubitza and induced a ground-ball double play from David Rohm. Cuevas wrapped up the fifth with three flyball outs.
"He can throw his fastball 89-93 [mph], usually sits 90-91," Walker said. "He does a good job moving it in and out, up and down.
"He didn't use his curveball much in his first outing, but he had a good one in his last outing. Today, he was hit and miss. That's a pitch we're still working on and trying to develop a little more. His changeup plays well off his fastball, and he can add and subtract with it. We're just trying to develop that curve, making it so he has a solid three-pitch mix."
Quevedo made an even larger jump this year as the 22-year-old hadn't pitched beyond the Dominican Summer League before this spring. He made three starts in the DSL with the Yankees after signing in 2010, but when MLB investigators began questioning his age and identity, the deal fell apart.
Quevedo continued pitching and Boston scout Manny Nanita kept a watchful eye on him, and the right-hander signed with the Red Sox for $150,000 last summer. The Red Sox worked him in Dominican intrasquad games last summer and felt confident in pushing him straight to the Carolina League this season.
Results have been mixed. Quevedo has an excellent arm, throwing his fastball up to 96 mph with easy arm action, according to Walker. But he's also faced some expected struggles, given his lack of pro experience. The result had been an 11.05 ERA in three appearances before Sunday.
"I am surprised by his polish," Walker said. "A couple of times in his last couple outings, he's tried to nibble or do too much and walked batters. This outing, he got back to letting his stuff play in the strike zone. This outing, I think, opened his eyes that he's good enough to pitch here, pitch up in the zone.
"His first couple outings, like anybody here, he didn't know what to expect and he worked around the strike zone too much and put himself in bad situations. He trusted his stuff and was poised today."
Quevedo, who hails from Las Matas de Farfan, Dominican Republic, entered to pitch the sixth inning and retired the side in order. In the seventh, he struck out Hefflinger, Kubitza and Rohm in order, then added two more punchouts in the eighth. He set down 11 straight hitters until allowing a two-out, ninth-inning walk.
"His stuff is good enough to play at this level," Walke said. "He's been piggybacking for us, and this was his third piggyback. His stuff is good and his arm is really live. He has a smooth, easy arm action. The fastball really jumps out of his hand and he has a really good slider that jumps out of his hand."
The Red Sox plated their lone run in the fifth. Boston's No. 10 prospect, Deven Marrero delivered a two-out double and crossed the plate on No. 11 prospect Brandon Jacobs' ground-ball single to left.