Tony Cingrani stuck with basically one pitch in his Triple-A debut on Thursday night. Not one batter came close to touching it.
"I was just throwing it up there, and they couldn't hit it," Cingrani said of his fastball. "I felt pretty good, the ball was coming out of my hand pretty well."
The Reds' top-ranked lefty prospect struck out 14 batters over six hitless innings in his Bats debut and Felix Perez broke a late tie with a walk-off homer off the foul pole to send Louisville past Toledo, 4-3, on Opening Day.
Cincinnati's Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2012, Cingrani threw 55 of his 84 pitches for strikes and allowed just one baserunner, a leadoff walk to Jordan Lennerton in the sixth. He struck out Quintin Berry to end that frame and his debut, coming up one strikeout shy of a career high.
"I wanted to be the best I could," said Cingrani, who whiffed 15 with Double-A Pensacola on June 26, 2012. "I just threw a bunch of fastballs and located wherever I wanted, just kept putting up zeros."
Cingrani, who made his Major League debut out of Cincinnati's bullpen late last year, went 10-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) at Class A Advanced Bakersfield and Pensacola in 2012. He was in the mix for a spot in the Reds' rotation this spring, but with a crowded staff at the big league level, he knew he was likely ticketed for Louisville.
"I knew I was going to Triple-A before the season started, my mindset was already Triple-A [during Spring Training], but I was competing for a starting spot," he said. "It was good to get back on the mound, I didn't get a chance to attack hitters all winter long."
The Mud Hens were the victims of Cingrani's pent-up strikeout cravings, going down in order in each of the first five innings. Cingrani, 23, struck out the side in the first, second and fifth.
He said he began thinking about a no-hitter in the second.
"That doesn't play into your mind, but you go out and do what you do," he said. "I was getting a little tired [in the sixth], but it wasn't that big of a deal, I knew I was going to hit my pitch limit."
The Reds want Cingrani to continue building confidence in throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes, with the hopes of him remaining a starter. But on Thursday, Cingrani just kept things simple.
"I was just using the fastball, locating it -- I didn't have to go to anything else," he said. "There were some changeups and sliders, but mostly just the fastball."
Cingrani's 10 strikeouts were more than any Bats pitcher totaled in a game in 2012. He fell one K shy of the franchise record, set twice -- Ken Hill struck out 15 on May 10, 1990 against Indianapolis, and more recently, current Reds starter Homer Bailey did it on April 26, 2009, also against Toledo.
Ranked as the Reds' No. 3 prospect this year behind shortstop Billy Hamilton and right-hander Robert Stephenson, Cingrani said he's excited about where his second full season will lead.
"I think we can win the championship. We look like a good team, we have some good pitchers," he said. "We'll see how it goes."
As for Hamilton, who stole a professional baseball record 155 bases last year, the shortstop went 1-for-4 with a double in his Louisville debut.
"It's awesome," Cingrani said of playing with Hamilton. "He's one of a kind, he's the fastest man I've ever seen play baseball."
The game, for all Cingrani's mound domination, also featured some long balls. Veteran first baseman Mike Hessman, a long-time slugger with the Mud Hens, went deep twice in his Louisville debut before Perez, who hit just four homers last year, broke a 3-3 tie with a home run off the right field foul pole against Toledo's Luis Marte. Hessman's two homers marked the second straight year the Bats have had a player hit a pair of dingers on Opening Day -- Paul Janish did it last year.