He sets his jaw and fixes his gaze plateward. If there is fear, you will not detect it. If there is doubt, only he will know it. His apprenticeship is still a work in progress. Without a doubt, the arm needs more versatility, more seasoning. Man cannot live by fastball alone. The mental part though, seems more than ready.
Anthony Michael Cingrani is a young man in a hurry. Hopping, skipping and jumping from Billings to Bakerfield to Pensacola before pausing in Louisville to catch his breath, he has fast-tracked his way to the majors with all the certainty of the morning sun rising to take its place in the noonday sky. Bad luck for Johnny Cueto and the Reds has meant opportunity for the youngster from the outskirts of Chicago. Precious work in the big leagues has helped identify the blank spaces on his pitching portfolio. A spot in the rotation is awaiting him once Bronson Arroyo takes his leave for more moneyed pastures and one last big league payday. At least, that’s the plan that’s been penciled in for 2014.
All that is on hold now. In a perfect baseball world, Cingrani would head back down to Louisville, continue to work on his secondary pitches and serve as insurance should Cueto’s body continue to betray him. Instead, the Reds must deal with a pitching staff that has fallen from grace, from a time when all five starters blew through a season without missing a start and one of the best bullpens in Baseball dominated from the 7th inning onward. This year, the baseball gods are exacting their pound of flesh. The Opening Day starter made only his 7th start of the season yesterday, Nick Masset has been a no show, Sean Marshall continues to be MIA, with Jonathan Broxton the latest casualty—and Aroldis Chapman is locked away in in Dusty Baker’s panic room with a sign that reads, “IN CASE OF 3 RUN LEAD IN NINTH, BREAK GLASS.”
There’s no question Tony Cingrani remains in Cincinnati for now. The question is, should he stay when Marshall returns? Reluctantly, that answer is yes. Unequivocally, yes. Can anyone objectively look and the road ahead and under even the best of circumstances NOT see the Cardinals’ lead doubling to 5 games by the time the Reds finish with the Pirates on July 21st?
|REDLEGS||o/u .500||REDBIRDS||o/u .500|
|Pirates (4)||+13||Cubs (4)||-11|
|DBacks (3)||+6||Rangers (3)||+7|
|A’s (2)||+12||Astros (2)||-18|
|Rangers (3)||+7||A’s (3)||+12|
|Giants (4)||+3||Angels (3)||-8|
|Mariners (3)||-7||Marlins (3)||-26|
|Brewers (3)||-12||Astros (2)||-18|
|Braves (4)||+12||Cubs (4)||-11|
|— All Star Break —|
|Pirates (3)||+13||Padres (3)||—|
I believe the Cardinals will come back to earth. It’s really hard to see it happening in the next four weeks. And if they don’t, it’s easy to see them sprint out to a lead that will paint the Reds into a corner faster than you can say “Sherwin-Williams.” Baker has managed his team—and especially his bullpen—to get him to September. I don’t believe that strategy works any longer. Not with the schedule in front of both teams. And forget the Pirates at your peril. They have remained on the Reds’ heels all season. The assumption that they will fade based on past seasons is just that—an assumption. Teams have been known to defy run differentials (see, e.g., 2012 Baltimore Orioles).
The Redlegs need to find the bullpen mojo they had last year. Now. Cingrani’s presence in the bullpen for the rest of the season gives the best chance of accomplishing that feat. When Marshall does return, he will almost certainly be used gingerly and will take on even more the look of a LOOGY than he already has under Dusty’s grand plan. Tony C. gives the bullpen the legitimate lefty option that is currently missing in Manny Parra. He has the versatility to be used in long relief, as well as any high leverage situation that occurs, no matter who stands at the plate. He can also act as stress relief for LeCure and Hoover, who must now feel as if they need to be nails each and every trip out to the mound. He makes a healthy and effective Jonathan Broxton less urgent. In short, he has the potential to make everyone in the bullpen better in much the same way that Votto makes the hitters around him better. And his weaknesses—his pitch inefficiency and secondary pitches—are minimized.
The other option, a trade, is fraught with complications. The extra wild card will keep more teams thinking they are still in the race, meaning fewer suitors with which to bargain. The price will be high. Who really wants to give up prospects for bullpen help of all things? Bullpen help that cannot possibly have the impact of young Cingrani?
Does it complicate Cingrani’s future? Yes. But, if you believe in this season, it must be done. Creatively manage his innings in the pen so that he finishes with an acceptable innings total heading into next year, if you have to. But make this happen.
Is it a gamble? Yeah. Could Cueto go down again? Absolutely. But, Cueto is healthy today and Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton are not. If either remain in DL limbo or come back and prove ineffective, the Reds will continue to falter late in games and waste precious time on the calendar. It’s a roll of the dice the Reds must take. The Angels lost their chance at making the playoffs last year all the way back in April, when a slow start and the decision to leave a guy named Mike Trout in the minors doomed their season. This should be an object lesson to the Reds now as the season nears its midway point. Simply put, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Don’t look back. Don’t look to simply hang close ’till September. Time to play with the fierce urgency of now.