Tony Cingrani‘s ailing back could … literally back (sorry, had to) the Cincinnati Reds up against a wall in the NL Wild Card race.
That would have been apparent anyway even the rookie’s strained back had taken him out of any other game, but the point was especially hammered home on Tuesday in the middle of a loss against the team right behind Reds — the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sure, you could pin the loss on the Reds bullpen (four runs allowed in the eighth) and the fact that Patrick Corbin continued his magical season by dominating in a complete-game victory for Arizona, but it’d be hard to argue that Cingrani would not have given the team a better chance to win this one if he didn’t have to leave in the fourth inning after just 54 pitches.
With Johnny Cueto still shelved and nowhere near returning (chances are he’s done for the season), Cingrani has gone from being a nice-to-have to a necessity to the Cincinnati rotation. Manager Dusty Baker probably put it best, not mincing any words when he told Mark Sheldon and Jeremy Warnemuende of MLB.com that the team “certainly can’t afford any more injuries on [their] starting staff going down the stretch here.”
Perhaps the most concerning — and frustrating — thing about this injury might be the fact that the 24-year old basically withheld the injury for the last couple of weeks, essentially allowing it to progressively deteiorate to the breaking point that he felt in his turn on Tuesday.
Now, it’s likely the case that no ballplayer is truly 100 percent by this point of the season, and Cingrani certainly isn’t the only pitcher who’d been hiding some ailment or another. In fact, given that his team is right in the thick of things, some might even laud him for gutting it out and trying his best to help his team win.
And to be fair, despite his back bothering him over the last couple of weeks, he’s been doing just that, having posted a brilliant 2.25/1.05 ERA/WHIP with a .171 BAA over his last 20 innings in August (four starts), right up until he couldn’t pitch anymore.
On the other hand, there’s no glory in being on the DL, and even less so if this strained back ends up taking Cingrani out for a significant amount of time. There’s really no way of knowing the consequences of him witholding the injury yet (he still thinks he’s going to make his next start), but what Reds fans do know for sure is that there just isn’t much of a plan B should it be the case. Greg Reynolds, the likely next man up, did not impress in a spot start back in July, allowing five runs on five hits over eight innings.
Cincinnati certainly hopes it won’t come to that, but the thing is that even if one skipped start could have alleviated Cingrani injury instead of worsening it, then the lefty’s will to play through it may have ultimately put the team in a worse situation down the stretch.