Billy Hamilton has been the talk of the Reds system -- the whole Minor Leagues, actually -- this season. Cincinnati's top prospect
has captured baseball's attention by racking up stolen bases at a record pace and earning a promotion to Double-A Pensacola along the way.
And it was there that he re-entered Tony Cingrani's territory.
The Reds' No. 10 prospect pitched a four-hitter over seven innings for his first career complete game Friday as the Blue Wahoos edged Chattanooga, 2-1, in the first game of a doubleheader.
It was also the first complete in Pensacola's 3 1/2-month history as Cingrani (5-1) allowed an unearned run and walked two batters.
The Lookouts' lone run came on a passed ball in the fourth inning, ending Cingrani's career-high scoreless streak at 24 innings. He allowed only two more baserunners over the final 3 2/3 frames.
The 23-year-old left-hander, who rang up a career-low two strikeouts and threw exactly 100 pitches, has not allowed an earned run in four starts since June 27.
Even as the zeros continue to pile up, Cingrani wasn't sure if this is his best stretch of baseball.
"Possibly," he said. "I know there haven't been too many strikeouts in there, so maybe it hasn't been great as it looks. But I'm just getting them to roll over on a lot of my pitches, and that's been a big part of it."
While the strikeout totals have gone down from 15 on June 27 to two on Friday, 13 Lookouts couldn't quite figure out Cingrani and were retired on ground balls. That total is a season high.
A big reason may be improved off-speed stuff, including a changeup and slider that have been a focus in between starts.
"The changeup was better tonight," he said. "The slider was there when I needed it to be there. It's all about just getting them over the plate and letting them do their thing."
Cingrani lowered his Southern League ERA to 1.29 and has 52 strikeouts in eight starts since a promotion from Class A Advanced Bakersfield early last month. He leads all full-season Minor Leaguers with a 1.19 overall ERA, ranks second with 123 strikeouts and sixth with a 0.94 WHIP.
That doesn't mean the Illinois native doesn't believe there's room for improvement, especially with the shutout streak over.
"You always want to make adjustments after every start," Cingrani said. "Focus was one of those [after my last start] and throwing my changeup for strikes was another."
As for what he'll look to improve following Friday's outing?
"I haven't even thought about it yet," Cingrani said. "We'll take a look at it over the next few days."
As much as the southpaw stole the spotlight from Hamilton Friday night, the speedy shortstop made sure he wouldn't be completely forgotten.
The 21-year-old shortstop stole two bases in the first game and added one in the nightcap, a 6-1 Pensacola win. He leads the Minors with 107 thefts.
"He brings panic to the basepaths," said Cingrani, who teamed with Hamilton at Bakersfield earlier this year. "He's had four stolen bases in just three games here so far. [When they called him up], I was definitely excited to watch him every day."