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Reds LH Tony Cingrani trying to win with more than just fastballs

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Left-hander Tony Cingrani is trying to shed his distinction as one of the major leagues' most fastball-reliant pitchers.

Not that it's been a bad label.

The 24-year-old pitcher made quite a splash as a rookie last season, going 7-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 18 starts and five relief appearances while filling in for the injured Johnny Cueto. He did it despite a sore back that bothered him for weeks and his limited options when it came to pitch selection.

Cingrani threw fastballs 81.7 per cent of the time, according to STATS LLC. Only Oakland's Bartolo Colon relied on the fastball more often among starters, throwing it 85 per cent of the time. Colorado's Juan Nicasio threw fastballs 74 per cent of the time. Cleveland's Justin Masterson and St. Louis' Lance Lynn were tied at 73.2 per cent, according to STATS.

With Cingrani settling into the fifth starter's spot this spring, manager Bryan Price has him working on finding a complementary pitch.

There has to be more to Cingrani than just the deceptive heat.

"He's extremely confident with that pitch," Price said on Monday. "And it's a special pitch for him. So you don't want to change who he is with his mentality, but there are days when you need to get to that breaking ball or change-up.

"He's going to have matchups that sometimes aren't his best matchups, and you need to adjust."

Until now, Cingrani has gotten by with pretty much the one pitch. Hitters know it's coming, but usually have a hard time handling it.

Part of it is Cingrani's motion. He takes the ball behind his shoulder before letting go. The ball is hidden for a fraction of a second, long enough to make it tough for hitters to lock onto it. Plus, he's able to throw it where he wants.

"He has some good deception in his delivery that limits the hitter's ability to see the ball," catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "The thing about him: He ain't afraid. He's not out there nibbling, trying to pick on the corners. He comes right after you."

That's the way he's always pitched. It worked for him as a prep star in Illinois. It worked for him at Rice University. And it has kept working for him since the Reds made him a third-round pick in the 2011 amateur draft.

"I didn't get to the big leagues because of my slider," Cingrani said. "I got here because of my fastball. I didn't want to fail, so I kept throwing my fastball. It worked. It got me here. Now that I'm here, I need those other things."

Whenever he got to an important pitch last season, there was only one choice. And it wasn't the slider or the changeup.

"It's always confidence with that," he said. "That's why I always went to my fastball. In any crucial situation, it was always the fastball, never any other pitch."

He was good and throwing the high fastball past hitters, even as his velocity dropped from the mid-90s to the upper 80s because of a sore back. He kept the injury quiet for about three weeks, trying to get through it.

He went on the 15-day disabled list to let the back heal in late August, and didn't pitch after Sept. 10 because the back spasms returned. The back is fully healed.

Cingrani struck out 120 batters in 104 2-3 innings last season. He allowed three runs or fewer in all but one of his 18 starts.

"He was really good pitching primarily with a fastball," Price said. "The strikeout numbers are great but in the end, he won games. He pitched the innings and gave us a chance to win almost every time he took the ball.

"If we can bring that to a full season and bring Johnny back and have him healthy for a full season and allow our other guys to continue to do what they do, you're looking at what to me may be the best starting rotation in the National League."

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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