With Cueto out, Cingrani continues to deliver

CINCINNATI – Dusty Baker said last month that Tony Cingrani was going to stay in Cincinnati with the Reds no matter what role they needed him.

Good thing Cingrani is flexible.

Cingrani didn’t get a decision in Wednesday’s 3-2 win in 11 innings against the Giants but the rookie lefthander continued his string of good performances by pitching 5 2/3 innings and allowing just a two-run home run to Tony Abreu in the fifth inning. It wasn’t his best start – he threw just 53 strikes out of his 97 pitches while walking four – but Cingrani has shown plenty of grit to prove he belongs with the big league club.

The uncertainty of Johnny Cueto’s health makes Cingrani all that more integral to the remainder of the season for the Reds.

Reds starters didn’t miss a turn in the rotation all of last season. It would’ve been unrealistic to think that would occur again this season but Cueto going on the disabled list three times in the first half of the season is taking things to the opposite extreme. Cingrani’s presence and performance have made life without the No. 1 starter easier.

“He made one mistake and kept throwing that fastball up,” said manager Dusty Baker. “Those young hitters they like it up. I don’t know how long (Abreu) hit it but he hit it a long way. That’s okay because he held them to two (runs), we tied it up and were able to win.”

Cingrani is 3-0 with a 3.40 ERA in 13 appearances, eight of them starts. He has allowed nine home runs and walked 21 in 53 innings but hasn’t given up more than four runs in any of his appearances. He’s struck out 62 so far this season, a great equalizing factor for him.

Cingrani made six starts in his first stint with the Reds, going 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA while filling in for Cueto from April 18-May 17. When he was sent back to the Triple-A Louisville, he was told to work on his secondary pitches. His last start for the Reds before Wednesday was a 12-2 win at Chicago on June 11. He made five straight relief appearances in between starts, including one last Friday when he replaced Cueto after just five batters at Texas. He went four innings and gave up three runs against the Rangers, while walking six.  

Cingrani doesn’t make much out of whether he’s starting or relieving.

“It’s not tough mentally. It’s what we do for a living and that’s what they’ve wanted me to do so that’s what I do,” said Cingrani. “I’m just trying to make my pitches every time. Every pitch matters. I’m just trying to make pitches.”

Todd Frazier earned his playing time last year by filling in wherever he was needed – left field, third base or first base – and producing. He understands the situation Cingrani is facing this season.

“It’s not easy. It’s like getting a pinch hit; it’s tough. But you’ve got to understand that you just have to do the little things,” said Frazier, who scored the winning run in the 11th inning on a single by Shin-Soo Choo. “Tony looks really good. His off-speed stuff has been a lot better and he’s still overpowering with that fastball.”

Wednesday, Cingrani got out of a two-on, one-out situation in the first inning by jamming Hunter Pence into a soft lineout caught by shortstop Zack Cozart and then striking out Pablo Sandoval. He broke Brandon Belt’s bat in the fourth inning, sending shattered remains flying as the ball went softly into Brandon Phillips’ glove at second base.

He wasn’t getting all of the calls Wednesday but he kept his composure and never wavered from pitching inside.

“You’ve got to move the ball inside and out. I’ve done that since college so it’s not anything new,” said Cingrani. “This is where you learn to play baseball and it’s fun. All of my pitches were working for the most part. It’s been good.”