After role change, Cingrani finds way to Reds
Rice pitcher reborn as closer, selected in third round of Draft
CINCINNATI -- On March 23, Tony Cingrani jogged from the bullpen to the mound as a new man.Cingrani, who transferred to Rice from South Suburban (Ill.) College a year earlier, had struggled as a starter since moving to the Lone Star State. But on that Wednesday evening, protecting a five-run lead in the ninth inning against Houston, Cingrani thrived. The Chicago native struck out a pair of Cougars and allowed one hit in a scoreless inning. It was only three outs, but for Cingrani it made all the difference. "This is fun," he told himself of closing the game. "This is what I like to do. This is what I need."
Cingrani ended the season with 12 saves in 32 relief appearances, posting a 1.74 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings. And on Tuesday, Cingrani was drafted in the third round by the Cincinnati Reds. He said he was surprised to get picked by Cincinnati and had been talking more to members of a couple American League teams in the weeks leading up to the Draft.Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at noon ET on Wednesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Day 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft. Reds senior director of amateur scouting Chris Buckley called Cingrani one of his "gut-feel guys." Scouts and cross checkers in Texas liked what they had seen out of the Rice reliever, who Buckley said could potentially be a starter for Cincinnati as well. But Cingrani said being drafted that high -- or at all -- didn't cross his mind this time last year. Instead, Cingrani was thinking about throwing in the towel. In his first season with the Owls, he went 1-0 in six starts, but he rarely pitched deep into games and was saddled with an 8.59 ERA. Last summer, Cingrani walked into pitching coach David Pierce's office and asked him, point blank, "Should I even be at Rice?" "This was not the season you wanted me to have," he said. "This was not the season I wanted to have." Pierce calmed him down and assured him that, yes, Cingrani belonged at Rice. But it was time for some changes, something Cingrani welcomed after the nightmare season. Pierce wanted the pitcher to retool his mechanics. Buckley said he is not concerned about Cingrani's fleeting thoughts about quitting. "That's not uncommon," he said. "We'll find a kid who gets homesick and wants to head for home or misses his mom or his girlfriend. We deal with those things all the time." Cingrani, who spent that summer playing for the Illinois Jayhawks so he could stay at home with his parents, Anthony and Deborah, said he used to reach back too far with his arm. Also, Rice head coach Wayne Graham pointed out, Cingrani's arm and leg motions were out of sync. Cingrani entered this season ready to show that 2010 was a fluke. But, like a recurring nightmare, he got off to a rough start once again. And, actually, that was the problem: starts were rough. So why not just skip ahead to the end instead? After going 0-1 with an 8.43 ERA in his first two starts this season, Cingrani was moved into the closer's role, where he thrived. Cingrani said coming in with the game on the line got his blood pumping a little bit faster, and he saw his fastball start to rise. While he was sitting in the low-90s as a starter, he started touching 97 mph once he could use all of his energy on one or two innings. The closer role also served him better as he is still somewhat one dimensional on the mound. Cingrani throws a slider and what he calls "something kind of like a circle change," but he relies almost exclusively on his fastball. "I only had one pitch that worked," he said. "The second time through, guys knew what to expect, and the fastball wasn't dominant enough to get by on its own." But coming out of the 'pen, he has been able to blow past opponents. And at the same time, he's been able to blow past any doubts he had about his baseball future.
Tyler Jett is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.