COMMENTARY | Cincinnati Reds lefty pitching prospect Tony Cingrani made a lot of friends at Great American Ballpark last year with his major league debut for the Reds on September 9. His last of five strikeouts in a three-inning relief appearance marked the 11th strikeout of the game for Reds pitching, which Reds fans know means only one thing (two actually): a free pan-size LaRosa's Pizza and one free scoop of delectable United Dairy Farmers ice cream.
Reds Country will be looking for a whole lot more than free tasty grub from Cingrani this time around, if the Reds recall him to start in place of injured ace Johnny Cueto against the Marlins this Thursday.
Oddly, it was Cueto who Cingrani replaced in his debut last year. It was an impressive debut, and in his time within the Reds organization, Cingrani has impressed throughout, particularly in the strikeout department with a 11.2 K rate per nine innings.
So far in 2013, Cingrani has added an exclamation point to his status as a pitching prospect. His first start of the year at Triple-A Louisville was a monster -- no hits in six innings with 14 strikeouts. His most recent start lasted only two innings with the expectation that he would soon be headed upriver to Cincinnati to join the big league club.
The injury to Cueto will likely sideline the Reds ace for at least four starts and maybe twice that many, which is exactly why Cingrani is on the hot seat: someone has to fill the tremendous void left in the wake of Cueto's absence.
If Cingrani buckles, the Reds will face the most dire obstacle of those that have been thrown their way early in this season. They will survive the loss of their cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick until the All-Star break, and they will survive the absence of lefty reliever Sean Marshall for the foreseeable time being.
But Cueto is a different story. His record speaks for itself. His fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award last year belies just how dominant Cueto was in his 19-win season. Trying to live up to the success of Cueto is only going to make the seat even hotter for Cingrani despite the fact that Cingrani does have some big league experience under his belt.
Of course if the hot seat proves a little too hot for Cingrani and his time as "The Next Big Thing" has to wait, then there's always "The Next Best Thing": Armando Galarraga.
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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