Much has been made of Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tony Cingrani and his need to add more pitches to his arsenal. We all know the story about Cingrani bursting onto the scene in 2013 and accumulating a 2.93 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 104.2 innings, and we also know he accomplished all of this by throwing basically one pitch — the fastball.
As impressive as that is, throwing a fastball 81.7 percent of the time, will eventually catch up with a starter, no matter how deceptive his delivery may be. Sooner or later major league hitters will adjust and begin to have consistent success.
With that said, the focus of the offseason for Cingrani was to add some off-speed pitches to his arsenal. Cingrani would look dominant early in the spring before struggling in his last few starts as he tinkered here and there with the off-speed pitches he’d been working on, leaving a bit of a question mark surrounding him as the Reds entered the season.
The biggest question was would Cingrani embrace the idea of being more than just a fastball pitcher once the season started or would he abandon the off-speed idea and follow an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach?
Cingrani toed the rubber for his first start of the season in Wednesday’s 1-0 walk-off win against the St. Louis Cardinals, and if Wednesday’s game was any indication, the answer to the question would be a little bit of both.
Cingrani looked vintage 2013 in the first inning, throwing fastball after fastball and looking dominant in the process — striking out two in the first frame. He threw his first off-speed pitch in the second inning which almost got past the catcher and he wouldn’t throw another off-speed until the third inning, which resulted in a swing and miss.
The interesting thing about the second breaking ball was that he clearly used it to set up his next pitch, which was a fastball that resulted in another strikeout. Cingrani would start three straight batters with off-speed pitches in the fourth inning, none of which were effective.
His biggest test came in the seventh inning when he ran into some trouble. With the scored tied 0-0, Cingrani had two on with one out. Clearly fatigued, Cingrani was left to battle it out. With the dangerous Yadier Molina at bat and a 1-2 count, Cingrani went with two straight off-speed pitches, missing badly before getting Molina to fly out to record the second out of the inning.
The seventh inning test would continue with Matt Adams up next, and after pumping him fastball after fastball, Cingrani would end the inning with a strikeout on, get this — a slider.
Cingrani would finish the game with seven shutout innings pitched and a whopping nine strikeouts. Cingrani’s two hits allowed extended his major league leading streak of starts with five or fewer hits allowed to 19.
At the end of the day, Cingrani is still a fastball reliant pitcher, and as of now that approach is still very effective. For those concerned about his pitch selection, all is not lost on that front. While throwing a ton more fastballs than off-speed pitches on Wednesday, it was clear that he made an effort to mix in some other pitches.
It was also clear that he has a ways to go to become effective with those pitches and isn’t anywhere near comfortable throwing them at this point — and in my opinion that’s just fine.
Pushing and pushing for less fastballs from Cingrani could become mental and do more harm than good. And because of that, I feel the Reds should let Cingrani be and let him continue to be himself while wisely mixing of some other pitches like he did on Wednesday.
Eventually the other pitches will come, but in the meantime the Reds should let him continue to be his dominating, fastball throwing self.