GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Tony Cingrani likes the idea of pitching in relief when the pressure is always on and without the benefit of a safety net that sometimes comes with being the starting pitcher.
As for his role on the Reds as he competes in camp, the left-handed Cingrani would love a shot at being the closer -- something he did in college for Rice University. But manager Bryan Price said before Saturday's 7-6 loss to the A's that J.J. Hoover would close if the season started now. Speaking before that was revealed, Cingrani felt comfortable in any pressure role in the late innings.
"Back end of the bullpen sounds good to me," Cingrani said. "The back end is basically [innings] seven through nine are similar. Obviously the ninth is the coveted role of the bullpen. But really just the seventh, eighth or ninth are good enough."
Cingrani has improved on the mound as spring wears on, and he seems to be putting himself in a good position to lock down one of several spots in the bullpen. Through six appearances and eight innings this spring, he has not been charged with a run. On Saturday vs. the A's, he worked two scoreless inning with a strikeout in the sixth. His first batter, Andrew Lambo, hit a soft rolling single to the hole at shortstop. Using his excellent move, Cingrani picked off Lambo at first base and then retired the next five batters in a row.
Part of the reason Cingrani seems to be performing well is a change in mechanics. The change he made is likely not that noticeable to an untrained eye. But to someone who has endured shoulder injuries the past couple of seasons, the tweak could be a difference maker.
"The mechanics are allowing my arm to work more freely with my body. It's taking a lot of stress off my arm," Cingrani said. "I'm not pulling off with the front side. I basically have my arm attached to my body as it flows through instead of having my arm behind my body."
Following a scoreless, one-walk, two-strikeout appearance vs. the D-backs on Wednesday, Price raved about the quality of work he had seen from Cingrani.
"Cingrani, his arm is back up. He's throwing the breaking ball for strikes a couple of games in a row now, which is very exciting," Price said. "The velocity and command of his fastball is good. His walk was right in the area where he wanted to be with his fastball, just off the plate. He was very impressive. ... He looks like he's working his way back to the guy we remember in 2012 and 2013."
Now 26, Cingrani seemed destined for big things as a starting pitcher in 2013 as he notched a 2.92 ERA and 1.099 WHIP in 23 games, including 18 starts. But his pitch command, and body, began to fail him. He was bogged down with back problems at the end of the '13 season and the 2014 season was largely consumed by shoulder problems. He was optioned to Triple-A Louisville in June of that year, but never threw a pitch there because he went on the disabled list.
In 2015, Cingrani was 0-3 with a 5.67 ERA in 35 appearances, including one spot start. Over his 33 1/3 innings, he allowed 31 hits and 25 walks with 39 strikeouts and a 1.68 WHIP. While his strikeout rate stayed consistent with '13, his walk rate per nine innings nearly doubled. He spent much of the second half back at Louisville, endured an injury to his non-throwing right shoulder and returned to the Majors as a September callup.
Cingrani frustrated the Reds as a starter because he relied too much on his fastball and didn't develop a strong changeup. Now focused entirely on relieving, the changeup has been put on the back burner in favor of two primary pitches. The slider Cingrani has thrown has been refined on the advice of teammate Caleb Cotham, who lockers near him. Cingrani used one in the dirt to strike out Eric Sogard to end the sixth on Saturday.
"I need to be consistent with the fastball-slider right now. They're easier to throw," Cingrani said.