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Hal: Armed with new pitch, Cingrani ready for more work

For 71 straight days it didn’t rain in the Phoenix area, not a drop. That came to a driving-rain end Saturday morning and it looked as if the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies wouldn’t play.

The Reds advised the Rockies to wait at their Talking Stick complex until they heard from them before making the 40-minute bus ride.

The Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox game, just a couple of freeway exits away in Glendale, was called off.

The sun broke out, the rain went away, and the Reds and Rockies played, although Reds manager Bryan Price removed all the regulars scheduled to play — Billy Hamilton, Brando Phillips and Zack Cozart.

But starting pitcher Tony Cingrani remained in the game for his first spring start as the fifth member of the Reds starting rotation and performed admirably.

In two innings he gave up a single in the first but struck out the side in the second and fine-tuned a slider that teammate Sean Marshall showed him two days ago.

Cingrani, a 6-4, 215-pound left hander, moves to the back end of the rotation after the free agency departure of Bronson Arroyo.

It isn’t exactly strange territory for Cingrani. He had more than a taste of pitching in The Show as a plug-in for all the games Johnny Cueto missed.

Cingrani started 18 games, more than half a season, and was 7-4 with a 2.92 earned-run average.

“Tony was terrific,” said manager Bryan Price. “It could have been a huge year had he been able to stay healthy. Cingrani encountered late-season back problems and didn’t pitch after Sept. 10.

“His contribution was significant last year,” said Price. “It was a teaser as to what we think he is capable of doing. We were confident we were going to lose Bronson Arroyo so it made it a lot easier pill to swallow knowing we had Tony.”

Of his Saturday debut, Cingrani said, “It went well, pretty well I’d say. It was fun to go back out there and challenge guys.”

After striking out the first two in the second inning, Cingrani started the third hitter, Tim Wheeler, with a knee-buckling slider and Wheeler swung over the top of it.

“I threw a couple of good off-speed pitches, some sliders,” he said. “Two dayas ago Sean Marshall told me, ‘Throw it off your fastball,’ like Greg Maddux told him. Use the same arm slot and about halfway to the plate it should look exactly like a fastball. The slider will fall and the fastball will jump at ‘em. That’s what I’m working on.”

At Lincoln-Way Central High School in suburban Chicago, Cingrani once threw a no-hitter with 17 strikeouts — against the state’s top-ranked team

“He is the full package,” said Price. “He is an athlete, he runs the bases well, he handles the bat, he has a special-pitch fastball that hitters have difficulty putting in play, a funky pitch that gets a lot of strange swings. He is hungry to get better.

“He just does a lot of good things as a baseball player, not just as a pitcher, and brings a good energy and intensity, a guy you love to play behind.”

But before Price awards him the Cy Young Award, there are some things the manager would like to see.

“We’d like him to be a little more economic with his pitches,” he said. “But he is not the type of guy who is going to throw a sinker away to get the hitter to roll over the pitch and hit a ground ball. That doesn’t happen that often because he has a swing-and-a-miss fastball and that’s unusual these days.

“At times last year he threw some pitches that I call empty pitches, pitches that didn’t serve any purpose,” said Price. “We’d like him to decrease those numbers and have him be more consistent in the strike zone.”

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