GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One of the reasons that the Cincinnati Reds harbor high hopes for the 2014 season can be summed up in two words:
There are obviously plenty of other reasons for Cincinnati optimism. They may have been under wraps recently while the club has lost nine of the last 10 Cactus League games. But this club has reached the postseason in three of the last four seasons. It should still have strong pitching and a capable lineup.
And Cingrani, a 24-year-old left-hander, could be something very special.
Cingrani was already very special in 2013 before lower back issues derailed his season in September. Over 23 appearances, 18 of them starts, he was 7-4 with a 2.92 ERA and a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 1.10. Cingrani struck out 120 in 104 2/3 innings.
Cingrani essentially became Johnny Cueto's replacement in the Reds' rotation last season as Cueto went on the disabled list three times. This season, Cingrani will in effect be replacing the ultra-consistent Bronson Arroyo. Tnis is a significant role to fill, but Cincinnati is fully confident that Cingrani is up to it.
"I have high expectations because he has given us reasons to have high expectations with his performance from last season, and even his performance in September of 2012," said Reds manager Bryan Price. Price, as Cincinnati's pitching coach before he was named manager, has plenty of background on Cingrani.
"It's not just because of his stuff, but because of his makeup," Price said. "He's such a tremendous competitor. I remember talking about Max Scherzer years ago when I was [coaching] in Arizona. There was never a matchup that he backed down from. You'd see Scherzer and he'd be facing [Albert] Pujols or whoever it was, it was like he was just another hitter. And he really wasn't. He was the best hitter in the National League at the time. But [Scherzer] treated him like he was just another hitter.
"And I feel the same way about Tony. There's no disrespect, but he respects his ability above the ability of the hitter, in every circumstance. And that's a special talent in and of itself.
"He's got a special fastball. It's a swing-and-a-miss fastball. He gets a lot of empty swings on his fastball. His numbers would indicate that he has succeeded at every level, including the Major Leagues.
"Of course, he had some issues with his hip and lower back last year, and those can be really debilitating for a pitcher. There are things that you just can't pitch through. So we're hoping that he can stay healthy, because we believe that he can have a really great year for us."
On the plus side, there is all of that. On the minus side, there was was what happened Tuesday at Goodyear Ballpark. Cingrani was working against the San Francisco Giants. His first two innings were scoreless, meaning that all seven innings he had pitched this spring had been shutout innings. Then there was a three-run home run by Buster Posey in the third. That was followed by a two-run home run by Ehire Adrianza in the fourth. Cingrani would not get out of the fourth, and his line featured a completely uncharacteristic six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Cingrani took this result in stride, even exhibiting a droll sense of humor about portions of it.
"Posey hit a pretty good changeup, but I probably had a little slow arm speed and he's a good hitter, so ..." Cingrani said. "The other one was just an 0-0 fastball.
"It's spring. They hit some pitches. I threw pretty well in the first two. I've just got to get that stamina back."
When Cingrani was asked if there were lessons to be learned from this outing, his first response was:
"Don't throw it down the middle. Other than that, they hit the ball. I was just trying to pound the zone and throw strikes, and they hit it."
Price chalked up Cingrani's problems to working on his offspeed pitches.
"He threw a lot of changeups today and a few sliders," the manager said. "And he's pitching a little differently than he usually does, because he's trying to advance those two pitches, trying to improve his breaking ball and his changeup.
"So you're not seeing the same guy as far as pitch philosophy and pitch usage. I think we all really believe that he needs to develop those two pitches. There's not a better place to do it. You hate to lose a game because guys are working on improving their stuff, but sometimes you've got to sacrifice. It doesn't mean we're going to lose if these guys work on their pitches, but they're getting outside of their comfort zones a little bit and sometimes it shows in the game results. It will pay dividends in the long run."
So this game could be considered an investment in Tony Cingrani's future. That appears to be a future that should be well worth the investment.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.