Cingrani stands tall against Cardinals pressure

Tony Cingrani was far from perfect Saturday night but he was at his best when he and the Reds needed it the most.

CINCINNATI – The Elias Sports Bureau figured out that if the St. Louis Cardinals were to go hitless in their next 100 at-bats with runners in scoring position they would still lead Major League Baseball in that category. They could go 0-for-200 and still lead the National League.

Suffice to say, the Cardinals put a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers and that pressure gets to a lot of pitchers.

Tony Cingrani stood up to that pressure Saturday night and helped the Reds get a much needed 8-3 win against the Cardinals. One night earlier, St. Louis drilled the Reds 13-3. The Cardinals scored four runs off of Bronson Arroyo in the first inning Friday and never looked back.

The Cardinals were ahead 1-0 two batters into Saturday’s game with a second potential run on second base but Cingrani left Carlos Beltran on the base paths by striking out Allen Craig, pitching around Matt Holliday, striking out David Freese and getting Daniel Descalso on a fly ball to right field.

Cingrani still has plenty of room for development but one thing you can’t teach a pitcher is how to deal with tight situations. Things aren’t always going to go smoothly. Batters will get the better of you sometimes, umpire calls at the plate will go the other way, but you need to be able to focus on the task at hand.

Cingrani has done that better than anyone could have expected him to this season.

“Tony is a competitor. He’s strong-willed and has a strong mind,” said manager Dusty Baker. “I talked to Mark Prior when I had lunch with him out (on the West Coast) and he said Tony is one of the few players he’s seen at Triple-A that wasn’t intimidated by anybody and wasn’t one of the young pitchers that didn’t read the name on the back of the uniform or the number. That’s big for a young pitcher.”

Especially a young pitcher who is filling in the rotation spot left vacant by the injury absence of No. 1 starter Johnny Cueto. Cingrani is now 5-1 with a 3.05 ERA. Deeper into the numbers, he’s giving the Reds a chance to win every time he goes to the mound. He hasn’t allowed more than five hits in any of his 21 appearances this season, including his 13 starts. He’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in 12 of those starts.

He wasn’t pitch efficient Saturday night. He walked five batters (one intentional) in his five-plus innings and 47 of his 103 pitches were out of the strike zone. But Cingrani also struck out seven and held the Cardinals to 1-of-6 batting with runners in scoring position and no RBI in 10 plate appearances.

For the season, batters are 6-for-53 (.113) against Cingrani in 71 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. He’s got 24 strikeouts in those situations, although he has walked 12.

“After they scored that first (run) I tried to bear down a little bit and get those guys out and limit the damage,” said Cingrani. “It more amps me up than anything to face somebody like Matt Holliday. He’s trying to hit home runs and pull the ball. Beltran the same thing. It kind of amps me up a little bit more and I try to throw the ball harder.”

By pitching around Holliday in the first inning – the unintentional intentional walk – Cingrani and catcher Devin Mesoraco showed they’ve got some smarts about them also.

“His other pitches are well behind but he’s got a good, good fastball that he can locate,” said Mesoraco. “He can throw it up in the zone, he can bury it in on guys’ hands. It’s a tough pitch because he’s got a bit of a funky motion and it really gets on you. That’s definitely his go to.”

The offense backed up the pitching Saturday. Jack Hannahan had a two-run, two-out single in the first inning to give the Reds the lead. Mesoraco gave Cingrani and the Reds some breathing room with a two-run home run to left field with two outs in the fourth inning. Brandon Phillips made it 5-1 with a double off the base of the wall in right-center to score Joey Votto from first base with two outs in the fifth inning.

No lead is safe against the Cardinals, however. They lead the majors in hitting with runners in scoring position, .337 at game’s beginning, and had five of the top nine individual averages in the National League.

In the top of sixth they loaded the bases against Cingrani; Holliday doubled off the glove of a diving Hannahan at third base, Freese walked and Descalso blooped a single into center. That ended Cingrani’s night after 103 pitches. Alfredo Simon and Manny Parra limited the Cardinals to two runs on a pair of groundouts, the start of a shutdown night for the bullpen, which pitched four innings of no-hit baseball.
The Reds tacked on insurance runs in the eighth inning with home runs by Mesoraco and Shin-Soo Choo.

But it was Tony Cingrani, imperfect as he might have been, being as perfect as he needed to be when it counted most that helped the Reds erase Friday night.

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