Big league needs trump minor league development, so Cingrani remains with Reds
By HAL MCCOY FS Ohio
CINCINNATI — It isn’t just a whisper from the fans, it's more like screaming it from the roof of the 49-story Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati: “Put
Tony Cingrani in the rotation, put Tony Cingrani in the rotation!”
They do have points of contention.
Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the third round of the 2011 draft, Cingrani has made 45 minor-league appearances, 44 as a starter. Twice this year, the 23-year-old left-hander has been a stand-in for injured Johnny Cueto for the Reds, and in seven starts he is 3-0 with a 3.15 ERA.
The last time Cueto returned, Cingrani was sent back to Triple-A Louisville to continue his progress as a starting pitcher and to work on his off-speed pitches. With no room in the rotation that is occupied by Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo,
Homer Bailey and Mike Leake, some thought Cingrani’s ticket to Louisville was purchased and punched.
Fans, though, want to see him working in the rotation right now.
Won’t happen. Not for now. But Cingrani isn’t going anywhere. This time he stays, and there's a seat in the bullpen with his name on it. With left-hander
Sean Marshall on the disabled list, Cingrani fits a niche.
And it isn’t like it is virgin territory for the Chicagoland native and product of Rice University.
Probably lobbying to stay with the big club, Cingrani himself points out, “I was a closer in college.” And Cingrani was called up from Double-A last September and made three appearances — all out of the bullpen. He gave up one run and four hits in five innings while walking two and striking out nine.
Cingrani knows he is staying, but he doesn’t know his bullpen role. In fact, manager Dusty Baker isn’t certain how he’ll be used.
“We’ll just have to see, and I haven’t even told him exactly,” said Baker. “We’re just glad we’re able to keep him. He fills what we need — a power arm and a left-hander in our bullpen.”
Cingrani, of course, is ecstatic to be able to stay with the Reds — in any capacity.
“They haven’t told me anything, but whenever they call my name I’ll go out there and pitch,” he said. “Whenever. That’s why I’m here.
“I’ve been there (in the bullpen) before,” he said. “If it was brand new maybe I wouldn’t be comfortable, but it’s nothing new. I closed in college and came up here and relieved with these guys. No big deal — warm up your arm and start throwing. Let’s go.”
Cingrani knows some folks believe he should go back to Louisville and pitch in the Bats' rotation every fifth day, preparing his future, but he says, “Of course I want to be here. But it is whatever the team wants me to do. I’m happy to be here. If this is what they need, this is what they need.”
Cingrani’s fastball is a plus-plus on the major-league charts, but his off-speed and breaking pitches are not. When the Reds sent him back the last time, he was told to work on his curve, his slider and his change-up.
“I worked on them at Louisville because you’re not worried about winning,” he said. “You can work on what you need to work on. Up here you have to win. I can throw more of all my stuff down there, but up here you go with what’s working.”
As for Cingrani’s switched role, for now, Baker said, “We’re thinking about what we need to win more than keeping his pitch count down. He is here to help us.
“We sent him down to work on his secondary pitches and that doesn’t play out in a relief role; you don’t need a lot of secondary pitches,” Baker said. “This is what we need right now, a situational guy. We want him to work on his secondary pitches, yes, but you can’t have everything.
Baker said the role Cingrani is about to play “Is the best you can be in as a young player. The Dodgers used to start out most of their pitchers in the bullpen. Nolan Ryan started as a relief pitcher. Pedro Martinez started in the bullpen. It’s old school and nobody worried about keeping pitch counts down then.”
Baker paused and said, “Ask him what he prefers? I know he’ll tell you he just wants to be here. And we welcome him.
“Everybody wants young pitchers rushed in there and then you have to worry about pitch counts,” Baker said. “And you know what? I’ll bet he closed in college because he didn’t have secondary pitches.”