COMMENTARY | Reds Country got a good look at the face of the Cincinnati Reds' new eighth-inning reliever on June 17, and it was a sight that will be as energizing to see for future eighth innings as the bullpen emergence of closer Aroldis Chapman is to see in the ninth.
There's no question that Tony Cingrani is worthy of the Reds' starting rotation: He posted a 3.15 ERA and 0.975 WHIP in seven starts as a substitute starter during the trips to the disabled list made by Reds ace Johnny Cueto. There's also no question that Cingrani at least belongs in the Reds' 2014 rotation if not the 2013 postseason rotation, but to see the way Cingrani took to the eighth inning the way he did against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 17 was to witness a piece of the bullpen puzzle come together perfectly at just the right time.
Reds Bullpen Woes
The Reds have invested $8.5 million this year for the eighth inning, but neither Jonathan Broxton nor Sean Marshall have produced to the level expected of them. Marshall has pitched just seven innings this year due to shoulder issues. Broxton was placed on the disabled list on June 15, marking a disappointing first half of the season with a 4.84 ERA in the over 22 eighth-inning innings pitched. The Reds have auditioned other relievers for eighth-inning relevance but none were able to claim the bullpen spot. Logan Ondrusek flopped horribly (10.29 ERA in seven innings pitched in the eighth). Sam LeCure's eighth-inning ERA is better at 3.52, but LeCure's stuff is just not convincing enough for the role. J.J. Hoover has registered a 6.75 ERA in the eighth inning, also removing himself from consideration for the crucial role.
So watching Cingrani claim the role with just one outing was a relief for Reds Country. Broxton and Marshall will both likely return sometime in July, but their returns won't necessarily mean that Cingrani will be removed from the eighth inning for the simple reason that Cingrani offers a level of dominance comparable to Chapman -- it doesn't matter if he's facing a left-handed or right-handed hitter.
The Reds have the luxury of a rotation set in stone. Between Cueto and Mat Latos, the Reds effectively have two aces. In Homer Bailey, the Reds have a No. 3 starter who has the stuff of an ace, if not the overall command of one just yet. The Reds also feature two innings-eaters in Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake, who both rely on command more than power. The debate about whether or not Cingrani or Leake would be the fifth starter after Cueto returned from his first DL trip has been thoroughly answered by Leake, who has a 2.64 ERA in 14 starts in 2013. While it's unlikely that Leake will continue at the pace he's enjoying now (his ERA over the past three seasons have been 4.23, 3.86 and 4.58, respectively), Leake has demonstrated his reliability as a fifth starter for now.
Eventually, Cingrani will most likely be in the Reds' rotation, if not for the 2013 postseason then for 2014 -- unless, of course, Chapman finally becomes a starter and Cingrani claims the closer role as convincingly as it looks like he has seized the eighth-inning role this year.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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