Tony Cingrani will make his Major League debut as a starter tonight for the Cincinnati Reds against the Miami Marlins in Cincinnati. I will be in attendance thanks to an awesome deal on tickets through stubhub (section 134 for $9 – this section begins at $40.00 right now through Reds.com with their dynamic pricing).
The Reds drafted Tony Cingrani in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft out of Rice where he split time starting and relieving, but served as the teams closer in his final year in college. The Reds gave the left hander a chance to start in Billings and he went out and obliterated the league as he posted a 1.75 ERA in 51.1 innings with just 6 walks and 80 strikeouts. His strikeout rate was the highest the Pioneer League had seen since 1981 when Sid Fernandez ran over the league. Scouts weren’t sold on his ability to start though, noting that he relied heavily on a good fastball that simply overmatched hitters at this level and his ability to throw strikes made for opposing hitters to have no chance. The Reds then skipped him over Dayton and sent him to the hitter friendly California League (Advanced-A) where it was even better than he had performed in the Pioneer League. With the Blaze, in 56.2 innings the lefty posted a 1.11 ERA with 13 walks and 71 strikeouts before earning a promotion to Double-A. With Pensacola Cingrani took a step back, but for the most part was still dominant as he posted a 2.12 ERA in 89.1 innings with 39 walks and 101 strikeouts.The Reds called Cingrani up in September where he threw 5 innings in 3 games with 2 walks, 9 strikeouts and 1 earned run. More scouts were on board that Cingrani could remain a starter, but plenty were still unsure if he could be successful at the big league level without big improvements in his slider and over-reliance on his fastball. As noted above, Cingrani went out and dominated in Louisville. With three starts under his belt he didn’t allow a run in 14.1 innings with just 2 walks and 26 strikeouts. The numbers are great, but more importantly was that his stuff looked improved. The injury to Johnny Cueto put Cingrani in line to make his debut earlier in the season than was expected by most.
Fastball – So far this season Cingrani has been sitting in the low 90’s with his fastball and reaching 94-95 at his peak once or twice a game. In the past, Cingrani has been more of an 89-91 MPH guy with his fastball for his “sitting” range, but early on he has been a little higher than that. While the velocity of the pitch makes it an above-average pitch to begin with, his deceptive mechanics make it tougher to pick up the ball which gives the pitch even a little more bump up in how it plays. In the first half of 2012 he was able to show good command of his fastball and was able to spot it very well throughout the game as he would paint corner after corner to both sides of the plate. In the second half he seemed to be unable to do that with his fastball, though he could still throw it for strikes within the zone, he wasn’t able to be accurate within the zone. Early on in 2013 the command has not returned as he has been able to throw strikes with the pitch but is often wild within the zone.
Change Up – Depending on who you ask, Cingrani brings an average to a plus change up that has good fade to it. In past years this was the more often than not putaway offspeed pitch for the lefty, but in 2013 it has become his 3rd pitch.
Breaking Ball – In years past it was a slider in the 77-82 MPH range. There were even two different versions of the pitch, one of which was more loopy that broke downward and one that was much tighter and had late downward biting action. The latter pitch, when it was at its best, was a quality pitch. The problem however was that for as often as it was a good pitch there were as many times where it didn’t do much of anything and was just a flat pitch. In 2013 Cingrani has been showing something different. While he and the Reds still claim it is the same pitch, a slider, it is in the 71-75 MPH range and it moves like a looping curveball with both downward break and sweep across the strikezone. Whatever it is, we will find out tonight as Pitch F/X will be able to tell us if it is different than the slider he has thrown in the past. Not only is the pitch looking better than a breaking ball he threw last year, it is also much more consistent and he can throw the pitch within the strikezone. His slider last year was mostly a pitch that he would try bury in the dirt and get hitters to chase. Cingrani has used the pitch as his #2 option this season in Louisville and seems to be confident to throw it to both lefties and righties. One thing to keep an eye on though is if he hangs the pitch at all, at a lower velocity hitters have more time to adjust than they did when he would hang a slider in the past that was in the 80 MPH range than a curveball that breaks over the plate in the low 70’s.
Pitchability – Coming into the year I, along with others, were concerned about the over reliance on the fastball as a starter. With a pitch as good as it had been in the minors to go with the numbers you can understand why he would use it so often, but it led to concerns that he wouldn’t develop his secondary stuff enough and that would set him back when he did get to the Majors. However 2013 has been an entirely different situation as he has mixed in his offspeed stuff a lot more often than he ever has in the past.
While his fastball is a very good pitch due to both the velocity and the deception his mechanics lend him, his lack of command early on could be a bit of a concern against some Major Leaguers as he may not be able to get away with a poorly located fastball as well as he was able to in AAA. Other than that though, I think Cingrani has everything he will need to succeed at the Major League level.
What to expect
Stuff wise, he clearly has what it takes to get Major Leaguers out. While he has flat out dominated the minor leagues to the tune of a 1.62 ERA with 278 strikeouts in 211.2 innings I wouldn’t expect him to be a dominating top of the rotation guy right out of the gate (well, maybe right out of the gate against the hapless Marlins lineup). I do believe that he can put up middle-of-the-rotation numbers out of the gate with an ability to dominate at times, especially against lefty heavy lineups with his improved/new breaking ball.