Tony Cingrani was always a starter not a finisher until he could no longer finish what he was starting.
That was the case in March 2010 when Cingrani, a junior college transfer in his senior season at Rice University, made the shift from the rotation to the bullpen because he lacked command of his secondary pitches. Before transitioning him into a relief role, pitching coach David Pierce shortened (and therefore quickened) his arm path to the plate, and manager Wayne Graham raised his glove hand (for added deception). "Similar to an Andy Pettite on the glove-side the way he really throws the glove into the hitter's view," Pierce said of the latter adjustment (which is demonstrated in the video below).
What Cingrani really learned, however, as the Owls' reliable late-inning option -- he compiled a 1.74 in 34 games and recorded a team-high 12 saves -- was much less mechanical. "Basically, he had this attitude that, 'I'm going to throw the fastball through the knees,'" Pierce said. "He probably threw 90 percent fastballs in college."
"Throw it as hard as I can -- that's my philosophy whenever I try to throw anything, because if I try to slow down, everything stops working," Cingrani himself said. "Becoming a closer, it made me have that mentality."
That, plus the development of his changeup and slider, has paid off. In 25 Minor League appearances, all starts, since Cincinnati made Cingrani its third-round Draft pick in 2011, he has gone 6-1 with a 1.42 and 165 strikeouts against 23 walks.
The Reds had told Cingrani, their 11th-ranked prospect, that he was staying put in the Cal League, where he led his peers in ERA (1.11) and WHIP (0.92), until the July All-Star break, but that changed with his June 2 promotion to the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Does he expect to finally be challenged now that he's in the seemingly tougher Southern League?
"I hope so," the 22-year-old lefty said, two starts in and no worse for the wear.
MiLB.com asked Cingrani to describe and grade each of the three pitches he employs. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Cingrani, in his own words.
Pitch one: Four-seam fastball
: To throw it as hard as possible and just hit my spots with it. There's no real thought when I throw it; it's just my mechanics, and then I throw it.
Grip: Index and middle fingers are spread apart, and my thumb is right underneath the ball.
Speed: Usually sits 90-93 mph. I threw about 86 miles an hour in high school but just developed and got stronger.
Speed at Rice: "He was 90 to 94 every time out. He would touch a 95, touch a 96."
Grade: The speed is better than average and my command is pretty good, so 60.
Pitch two: Changeup
: My coach my junior year at Lincoln-Way Central High School showed me how he held it, and then I missed around with a circle-change. My fastball and changeup, that's pretty much how I got through games. I'd turn my arm over on it so much that is was kind of like a right-handed slider.
Purpose: I face a lot right-handed hitters, and it keeps them off my fastball. I throw it for strikes for the most part, just changing speeds on 'em.
Grip: I cage the ball in with my index finger and my pinky finger, and then I hold a four-seam grip. Then, with my middle finger, the bottom of that first knuckle, I put on the seam. That's what I throw it off of; I try to take my middle finger and pull down on the ball.
Speed: It usually comes in about 83, 84.
Pitch three: Slider
: I threw the curveball until my junior year in college and then started throwing the slider 'cause the curveball doesn't really go with how I throw right now. If I had a slider, then I could throw a curveball, but I don't have a consistent slider. If I have a curveball, hitters can sit back on it, hit it, because it would be so much slower. I'm trying to get that harder power pitch, and the slider is more of a power pitch. I was messing with grips and I just kind of stumbled upon it when I went to Rice. I finally found a grip that I am comfortable with. David Pierce was my pitching coach at Rice and helped me with it. I didn't really throw it in college -- I just threw my fastball and changeup -- because I was a closer. I need it a little bit more here, obviously, because I am starting; I need more than two pitches.
Purpose: I try to throw it as an out-pitch to righties and to lefties, and I usually don't throw an 0-0 slider to a righty; I try to throw it to lefties, but the command is just not there. I usually don't get too many strikes with it. I am trying to build it back up in bullpens and on my side days and hopefully it'll get there.
Improvement: After striking out nine over six shutout innings to earn his first Double-A win on Friday, Cingrani relayed to MiLB.com's Robert Emrich helpful slider-related advice he received from Pensacola's pitching coach. "[Tom] Brown said one phrase to me and it made my slider start working how it's supposed to work," Cingrani said. "'Come across my face when I throw it.' It was crazy. I've never had command of my slider and today, I didn't throw it in the zone for a strike, but it had the action. It was a good two-strike pitch."
Grip: My index and middle fingers aren't together when I hold it. I try to get on top of the ball and pull down.
Speed: Anywhere from 78 to 82. I try to get it up to about 84, but I am still working on it.
Grade: 40. It's good. I just have no idea where it's going.