Goss: Cingrani makes like Sale in throwing a gem
June 28, 2012 7:04PM
Tony Cingrani, of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. | Chris Nelson~Special for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:22AM
It was not unlike watching White Sox left-hander Chris Sale strike out 15 Tampa Bay Rays earlier this season.
Cincinnati Reds prospect Tony Cingrani was every bit as masterful Wednesday when he pitched the Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos to a 5-0 Southern League victory over the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals, the Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.
“I was just watching Chris Sale throw other night,” Cingrani, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-hander and lifelong Sox fan, said. “We’re actually pretty similar. We have similar arm paths. He’s a little more funky than I am. I have enough deception that I don’t have to become funky. But there definitely are similarities.”
Cingrani, who pitched at Lincoln-Way Central, South Suburban College and NCAA Division I power Rice University before being selected by the Reds in the third round of the 2011 draft, has enjoyed success throughout his first full year in pro baseball. But his performance Wednesday will be discussed for a long time.
“We had a no-hitter on our team this season, and this was better,” said Tommy Thrall, media relations coordinator for the Blue Wahoos.
Cingrani, 22, had a no-hitter until one out in the seventh inning. He wound up allowing three hits in eight shutout innings while walking two. Ten of the first 14 outs he recorded were strikeouts.
“It was my best game in pro ball. Everything was working well,” Cingrani said. “My previous start was not too good. We worked on it in the ’pen and figured it out.”
Cingrani, the 10th-ranked prospect in the Reds organization, pitched at Billings in the Pioneer Rookie League after being drafted. He began 2012 at Bakersfield in the A-Advanced California League and was dominant, earning a promotion to Double-A Pensacola.
With the Blue Wahoos, he is 2-1 with a 2.15 ERA. In 291/3 innings, he has allowed 22 hits and eight walks while striking out 38. In his two stops in 2012, he is a combined 7-2 with a 1.47 ERA. In 86 innings, he has yielded 61 hits and 21 walks while striking out 109, the third-highest total in minor league baseball.
All of that comes on the heels of a 2011 summer at Billings where he went 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA and struck out 80 while walking six in 511/3 innings.
“Command of the fastball is the big thing if you don’t want to walk people,” Cingrani said.
Cingrani’s fastball, which generally clocks at 91 to 93 mph but can hit 95 or slightly higher, tails away from right-handed hitters. He also throws a changeup and slider.
“The changeup is usually there,” he said. “I’m working hard on the slider.”
Cingrani said facing Double-A hitters is not appreciably different than facing those he saw in A-Advanced.
“You just have to keep throwing, and if they don’t hit it, they don’t hit it,” he said. “The same plan works. Move the baseball around and throw it for strikes.”
And to think, after moving to Rice from South Suburban, Cingrani struggled as a starter before finding a niche — and climbing pro draft boards — as a closer.
“Right when I signed the papers last year the Reds told me they were sending me to Billings and they wanted me to increase my innings and become a starter again,” Cingrani said. “That’s what I wanted, too.”
Look at him now.
“The Reds don’t have any lefty starters ahead of me in the organization after Jeff Francis left (he’s now with the Rockies) and they traded Travis Wood (to the Cubs), so I may be able to move progressively along,” Cingrani said, anticipating the day when he lands in Cincinnati.
“What a great story (Wednesday’s game) was for him,” said Steve Ruzich, a 1985 University of St. Francis graduate and Cingrani’s coach at South Suburban. “Tony had one big game when we took a trip to play in Texas, and that’s how he got to go to Rice in the first place.
“They weren’t even going to put him on the traveling roster for the playoffs when he was a junior. Then halfway through his senior year, they made him the closer. Whatever happened that senior year at Rice, he took off.
“You hardly ever see a year in pro ball where a guy strikes out 80 and walks six like he did last year. He always had the good fastball, but it moved so much that control used to be the issue.”
“I did not really have good mechanics when I went to Rice,” Cingrani said. “I got my mechanics fixed and fixed my arm path there.”
Ruzich said there is no reason to believe Cingrani cannot continue on a trek toward the big leagues.
“The thing about Tony is he always had a work ethic second to none,” Ruzich said. “He also does not lack any confidence.
“I always said you have to be cocky in this game, but you don’t have to show it. As a pitcher, that’s what you need, and that’s what Tony has.”