Cincinnati Reds left-handed starter Tony Cingrani's venture to the Major Leagues has been relatively quick.
Cingrani went to Lincon-Way Central High School in New Lenox, Ill., where he was a two-year letterman and was named the team's MVP in his senior year. He threw a 20-strikeout no-hitter and was named to the all-conference team.
Following high school, Cingrani, ranked as the Reds' No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com, the organization went to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. He pitched for the Bulldogs for two seasons and left holding the school record for strikeouts with 195 in 143 1/3 innings.
Cingrani then left South Suburban and went to Rice University in Houston, Texas. He started for the Owls and experienced some inconsistency on the mound. Basically, his control and command escaped him and he was walking too many hitters. After his first season, his junior year of college, he lost a bit of confidence. He even asked the coaching staff if he belonged pitching at the Division I university. They assured him he did.
In the offseason, the Rice coaching staff worked with Cingrani to tweak his delivery and bring his mechanics into sync. It worked as he went from the rotation to the bullpen. In fact, Cingrani became a very effective closer, setting a school record with 12 saves in 32 relief appearances.
In the bullpen at Rice, Cingrani's velocity increased from his steady 86 miles per hour as a starter to a range of 90-94 mph. He relied on the fastball, but he could also throw a slider and a changeup as his secondary pitches.
His control now in check, Cingrani fashioned a 66/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 innings. He was a pitcher capable of retiring hitters.
The Reds took notice of Cingrani and selected him in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
Realizing he had a strong arm and a live, moving fastball as a primary pitch, the Reds installed Cingrani in their Rookie League Billings starting rotation. He made 13 starts covering 51 1/3 innings and posted a very fine 1.75 ERA and a 0.799 WHIP. The intriguing part about Cingrani's rookie season can be seen in his command and control statistics. He walked only six and struck out 80. It appeared his return as a starting pitcher would be permanent.
Cingrani pitched at two Cincinnati levels the next season before he got a taste of pitching in Major League Baseball. He had a combined record of 10-4 in 26 total starts at advanced Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. His overall ERA was 1.73, even a tad less than his rookie year at Billings.
Remarkably, Cingrani gave up only 98 hits in his 146 innings pitched during that 2012 season. He walked 52 while striking out 172. Again, like his rookie season, he showed he could command the three pitches that would carry him through his starts. And while his fastball was his dominant pitch, his secondary pitches were important to his success.
In September last season, at age 23, Cingrani made his debut pitching for the parent Reds.
Instead of pitching in the rotation, Cingrani got some spot appearances in the bullpen. He appeared in three games, finishing one. He threw a total of only five innings, but he was introduced to life in the faster lane.
Cingrani began this season back in the rotation. But it was at Triple-A Louisville as opposed to Cincinnati. He started three games, pitching 14 1/3 innings and had not given up a run before he was summoned back to the Reds. He surrendered only three hits during that time frame, walking two and striking out 26. Once again, he was proving his brief stray from command and control earlier at Rice was a fleeting issue.
And with Cincinnati so far this season? Cingrani is doing very well, thank you. In four starts, covering 24 innings, he's given up seven runs and has an ERA of 2.63. He's walked five and struck out 33. His WHIP is a miniscule 0.833.
Can Cingrani maintain his current pace of outstanding starts? Why not?
Cingrani is a long and lean guy. He's 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. His best pitch remains the four-seam fastball, which he throws more than 80 percent of the time. He adds and subtracts velocity from a base of 92 mph, but he can touch 94 with little effort. It's the change in velocity that creates different movement on his pitches. He changes the eye level and balance of the hitters. His fastball really runs from the bats of right-handed hitters. Without a doubt, deception and movement on the ball are big parts of Cingrani's success.
Left-handed hitters are hitting .105 and righties .222 against Cingrani. He has not walked a left-handed hitter.
Like most pitchers, Cingrani is much more effective when he realizes his limitations and doesn't try to overthrow. Many pitchers try to exceed their ability and that's when they enter the trouble zone. Not Cingrani.
His secondary pitches are not as refined. He uses them with far less frequency. He has a curveball, a slider and a changeup to complement the fastball. I think the changeup can really help put away hitters with a different look and variable speed from his bread-and-butter fastball.
Since he began pitching in high school, Cingrani has been tested as both a starter and as a reliever. He has the pitch repertoire, command and control to pitch from the bullpen if needed. His versatility and arm strength expands his value.
I saw him pitch in Spring Training. I liked his simple, uncomplicated mechanics, as well as his confident mound presence and composure. He is intelligent and knows how to pitch. I don't think he will lose the release point of his delivery or get out of rhythm with his arm action. In short, I think the Reds have a very consistent left-handed pitcher.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.