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Meggie Zahneis

Cingrani's rise not without challenges

Cingrani's rise not without challenges

Tony Cingrani has turned heads around Major League Baseball.

The 24-year-old southpaw, having made his Major League debut last September for the Reds, didn't crack Cincinnati's Opening Day roster this spring.

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But he didn't stay with Triple-A Louisville for long. Instead, he found himself en route to Cincinnati, where he would serve as the Reds' EMS after ace Johnny Cueto went down with a strained right lat.

To the Reds' relief, Cingrani filled Cueto's shoes by going 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA over six starts.

Despite being sent back to Louisville when Cueto was well enough to pitch again, Cingrani has spent most of the season with the Reds, initially making spot starts for Cueto before being shifted to the bullpen. Now Cueto looks to be out of commission for an extended period, and Cingrani has stepped into the void.

"I don't go out there and try to do too much," Cingrani said. "I'm not going to out there and try, you know, Homer [Bailey] threw a no-hitter and everyone [said], 'You got to follow that up.'

"I'm like, 'Well, it's a new day. I don't have to throw a no-hitter. I just have to give our team a chance to win.' If you think in terms like that, it's not too much [pressure]."

But let's rewind the tape back, to June 7, 2011. That's when Cingrani, toting a freshly inked diploma from Rice University, was selected by the Reds in the third round of the Draft.

"I wouldn't say I was the best kid [on the field] growing up," Cingrani said. "I wasn't good until about three or four years ago. I've just always had a pretty good work ethic, I always loved baseball and loved playing sports. I always played football, basketball and baseball."

When he was a junior at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox, Ill., Cingrani switched to pitching full-time.

And the rest is history. Cingrani rocketed through the Reds' farm system and was named manager Dusty Baker's first callup in case of emergency in Spring Training.

"I'm pretty honored to do that. It's nice knowing that I've pretty much got security," Cingrani said. "If something happens -- which I don't want to happen to anybody -- but if something were to happen and I'm in Louisville, you know I'm just trying to work and do my job, and then come up here and do my job up here."

That doesn't mean his transition was flawless. Cingrani had to develop several pitches to pair with his fastball.

"I had a bunch of pitch approaches that I worked on all the way through, so [those] helped me out a lot with thought processes on how to release the ball and how to throw it," Cingrani said.

Cingrani said he blended the influences of many prominent lefties to craft his own repertoire, citing Steve Carlton's slider, Johan Santana's and Cole Hamels' changeups, and the pitching style of CC Sabathia as inspirations.

Add the pressure of developing pitches quickly to the versatility that was a must as Cingrani transitioned from the rotation to the bullpen and back, and you've got one heck of a challenge.

"I was a starter my entire life until my senior year in college, and I was a closer. That was probably the easiest job, because I would just go in and throw fastballs and not have to worry about anything else," Cingrani said.

"When I got drafted, I was only working about two to three innings, so it wasn't too bad with just fastballs and changeups. That basically got me to here. Starting, now I throw curveball, slider, changeup and fastball, which is kind of a little bit difficult right now. But I'm getting the hang of it."

Don't believe Cingrani? Check out his 3-0 pitching record through 52 innings for proof.

No doubt many other Minor Leaguers want to know how Cingrani managed to climb the ladder so quickly. But even Cingrani himself doesn't have an answer.

"I had no idea [that I would be called up so soon]. I just went out there and pitched and did well, and here I am," Cingrani said, sitting in the Reds' dugout wiping his brow after a Saturday afternoon bullpen session. "It's about that simple."

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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