Cingrani ready to thrive as Reds’ fifth starter
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Tony Cingrani walked down a hall and hesitated at a door before walking in and said, "It’s been a while since I’ve been here"
It was the trainer’s room in the Cincinnati Reds spring training complex, a place no pitcher wants to visit, especially Tony Cingrani.
The 24-year-old left handed pitcher was in the training room at Great American Ball Park far too much last season for a bad back, a bad back that he tried to hide for three weeks.
It was a rookie mistake, something young players do all the time either to display a macho image or because they worry if they can’t play they’ll lose their spot.
For Cingrani, a highly confident player almost on the brink of cockiness, it was both. He is macho and he didn’t want to miss his opportunity.
Manager Bryan Price, Cingrani’s pitching coach last season, said Cingrani hid his back pain for about three weeks and added, "He was trying to be the rookie that isn’t seen lingering in the trainer’s room and I appreciate that. But it set him back."
Cingrani was a fill-in last year. Every time Johnny Cueto went down, Cingrani stepped in. And it happened three times, enough time for Cingrani to make 18 starts and post a 7-4 record with a 2.92 earned run average with 120 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings.
"I felt something in my back for a few starts, but it was manageable, it really wasn’t that bad until that one start against Arizona when it really bit me in the butt," said Cingrani of his 5-2 loss on August 20. A few days later he was on the disabled list. "I really couldn’t even stand up any more."
Cingrani said he went through normal strengthening activities in the off-season to make sure that part of his body remains strong for the upcoming season.
With Bronson Arroyo gone, it is Tony Cingrani time. He is on the board as the team’s fifth starter and he wishes tomorrow was Opening Day. "I’m so excited," said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound native of Evergreen, Ill. "If I can just break camp with the big team, stay healthy all spring and go with them for the first game that would be awesome."
Cingrani is counted upon for more than just making the team. His work schedule is planned for every fifth day.
"That’s what I’ve been dreaming about the last couple of years," he said. "I wasn’t surprised they let Bronson Arroyo go because it involved so much money. I’m a lot cheaper option and I’m not a bad option. Now I’m getting the chance and you have to thrive on that chance."
While the Reds pay Cingrani close to $500,000 this year, the Arizona Diamondbacks are paying Arroyo $23.5 million over the next two years.
But there is work to do and both Cingrani and the Reds are searching for a pitch to complement his sneaky fastball. The velocity isn’t high end, but the results are many strikeouts.
Among all starting pitchers in baseball last year, Cingrani threw his fastball more often than any pitcher but Bartolo Colon, according to STATS. Colon used his fastball 85 percent of the time and Cingrani threw his 82 percent.
"We’ve spent a lot of time working on his off-speed pitches," said Price. "He is a high-volume fastball pitcher. We’ve spent a lot of time on his change-up and trying to solidify one of his breaking pitches. He worked on a curveball and a slider and a cutter, working his way to developing one that can be a reliable breaking pitch. It looks to me as if the slider has developed the fastest."
The plan is for Cingrani to have what Price calls the weaponry and the arsenal, "And I look at him in a similar fashion as I looked at Sid Fernandez." Fernandez pitched 15 years in the majors, mostly with the New York Mets, and won 307 games.
"He was a guy who threw a lot of fastballs at the top of the strike zone and hitters just don’t square up and they swing through a lot of his fastballs," said Price. "Cingrani has had success throwing primarily fastballs so it isn’t like we’re going to tell him, ‘OK, be a 60 percent fastball pitcher and 40 percent off-speed.’ But, you want to have the arsenal when you have to get teams off your fastball and have the confidence with those other pitches."
Price said Cingrani’s success doesn’t depend on high velocity, "Because there are days when he was successful at 92 to 96 and there were other days when he might be 88 to 92 and he still got some uncomfortable swings on his fastball. He is extremely confident with that pitch, he locates it well and it is a special pitch for him. We don’t want to change who he is, but he’ll have match-ups that aren’t best with his fastball."
So Cingrani will spend this spring taking care of his back and sharpening his complementary pitches.
"We’ve impressed on Tony he has the responsibility to go on the field and win games for the Reds and to be prepared. And we have the best in the business in the clubhouse to get you ready to feel good," said Price. "Don’t keep a nagging problem to yourself. If you are not ready to play we have the people to get you ready to play. You are not soft when you go see the trainer."
Soft is not a word anybody every associates with Cingrani.
"It’s good right now," he said. "I’m moving and running, fielding everything."