Cingrani taking nothing for granted, fighting for rotation spot

Arm issues caused Tony Cingrani to have an underwhelming season in 2014.

David Kohl/David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

MESA, AZ. — As Tony Cingrani trudges to the mound Friday to face the Chicago Cubs, his first exhibition appearance this spring, he has the confidence and blessing of his manager.

All spring long manager Bryan Price has listed Cigrani as the odds-on favorite to capture one of the available spots in the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation.

But it came with a caveat this week when Price was asked how Cingrani has looked during his bullpen sessions and his live batting practice assignments.

When asked how Cingrani has looked, Price didn’t pull any punches and, in fact, offered a light jab to the solar plexus.

Almost always when asked that question about a pitcher, Price says he looks great or he looks beautiful. With Cingrani he said he looks fine.

"Sometimes it’s hard to tell with young guys," said Price. "Some guys are blow-and-go in their bullpens. Tony looks fine to me. It’s an important camp for him to get extended and just make sure everything is OK physically with the shoulder. We haven’t had any great concerns."

If that is any kid of challenge, Cingrani is ready for it. Taking things for granted isn’t the Tony Cingrani way. He knows if you take things for granted, those grants might be taken away.

It is a given that Cingrani is The Chosen One to be the fourth starter in the rotation. Price continues to lists him first among the slew of candidates lined up from the pitcher’s mound to the dugout.

All it seems that Cingrani has to do is to keep from hurting himself and to keep from laying a rotten egg during spring exhibition games. And to keep his shoulder strong and healthy.

The 6-4, 210-pound left hander was called up from Class AAA Louisville in 2013 to fill-in for injured Johnny Cueto. While he was no Cueto (who is?), he was extremely good — 7-4 with a 2.92 earned run average in 18 starts.

He was the only pitcher in Major League history to give up five or fewer hits in his first 22 big league starts.

That earned him a spot in the rotation to begin last season and it couldn’t have been better when he shut out the Cardinals for seven innings on two hits.

Then things rapidly deteriorated. Fate and the arrival of shoulder pain struck him down. It went so bad he found himself back in Louisville. His season was a 2-and-8 disaster, ending with the permanent demotion to the Bats on June 20. And he immediately went on the disabled list and didn’t pitch again.

His shoulder appears to be fully rehabilitated and he is throwing without pain in the early stages of spring training.

So, one of the two spots available appears to be his, right?

"I’m making no predictions, just taking it day-by-day and going by what my arm tells me," he said. "That’s all I can do.

"So far everything is coming out good," he added. "I worked hard on my mechanics in the off-season. I worked every day to refine those mechanics so my arm moves properly."

Cingrani is trying to keep his weight on his back foot longer, "And trying to keep my arm from getting away from my head too far. That caused a pinch in my back."

Asked if that caused his shoulder problems, he said, "Didn’t help. Throwing a baseball is what caused it. If you throw it properly all the time you can eliminate all that damage I did."

Cingrani realizes that throwing a baseball is not a natural thing for a shoulder, elbow and arm to do, "Especially throwing it about 170 times a game when you count warming up in the bullpen and warming up between innings. You have to throw 100 pitches in a game and if you lose your thought process just a few times it can cause serious pain and those pitches can cost you, both with injury and with getting beat."

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When it is mentioned that Price all but has him in the rotation, Cingrani says, "I have to make it there first. And I have to make it through the season. I am taking it day-by-day and not assuming anything. We have some other guys right at the doorstep. Everybody is good. There are so many guys trying for jobs it is kind of crazy."

Price, too, realizes that making it through a 33-start season isn’t easy, especially for a guy coming off shoulder problems.

"The thing is, you don’t know, but we could say that to a laundry list of guys," said Price. "The difference is Tony has been in the big leagues already. What you do is keep your fingers crossed that he is that type of a pitcher."

Cingrani believes he is and hopes to prove it in 2015, without taking anything for granted.

Price knows the importance of finding the two pitchers for the back end of the rotation and said, "It is important for us to find the right guys and then how well they give us that chance to win."

About Cingrani, Price says he needs two things, good health and quality strikes.

"After his first start last year (against St. Louis) he was never again able to capture that electricity," said Price. "If he is healthy and throws strikes, he has a great chance to be successful.

"He has a special fastball and a special deception to his delivery that has made him something special. Last year was a step back because he was never 100 percent healthy after the first start of the season."