CINCINNATI -- Assuming no one else gets injured, it's likely that either Alfredo Simon or Tony Cingrani will be the odd-man out of the Reds' rotation once Mat Latos returns from the disabled list within a couple of weeks.
Before Cingrani's start vs. the Cardinals on Saturday night at Great American Ball Park, manager Bryan Price noted that it would be important for his young lefty to pitch well, and that makes these handful of starts all the more interesting to watch.
Cingrani's chance to build his case didn't go all that well during a 6-3 Reds loss. In his second game back from his own DL stint for mild left shoulder tendinitis, Cingrani gave up four earned runs and seven hits over six innings. He issued three walks and struck out four while throwing 91 pitches.
"He's not vintage yet," Price said after the game. "His velocity isn't back to where it was in his opening start, and what we're used to seeing, but he's managing his offspeed pitches better. It's give-and-take a little bit right now with Tony. We're not giving our guys a ton of margin for error right now. It'd be nice to go out there and beat somebody 10-2."
Overall, in eight starts, Cingrani is 2-4 with a 4.06 ERA, and 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in his last two games. He's only pitched more than six innings twice this season. His spot also becomes more tenuous because he's not yet a veteran. Meanwhile, Simon is 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA in his nine starts.
Within three batters Saturday, Cingrani was already down by a 1-0 score. Matt Carpenter smoked a leadoff double to left-center field and scored on a Matt Holliday one-out RBI single. In the first inning this season, Cingrani has an 11.25 ERA, with 10 runs allowed. He has a 2.57 ERA for the remainder of his innings pitched.
Leading off the top of the fourth, Yadier Molina scorched a 2-0 pitch for a homer to right-center field that made it a two-run Reds deficit.
Cardinals lefty starter Jaime Garcia retired 14 of his first 15 batters and 12 in a row before the Reds' lineup sprung to life in the fifth. With two outs, Brayan Pena hit a double through the gap in right-center field, and then scored on a Zack Cozart RBI single to left field.
Instead of a needed shutdown inning in the sixth, Cingrani gave up a leadoff single to Holliday that was followed by Allen Craig's walk. A one-out walk to Jhonny Peralta loaded the bases and applied more pressure. Mark Ellis got a run in with a sacrifice fly before Jon Jay laced an RBI single past a diving Cozart at shortstop to restore a two-run Cardinals lead.
"I felt all right through the first five, and in the sixth, I got into some trouble and they capitalized, like they should," Cingrani said. "I had 16 or 17 days off without throwing in a game, so obviously I'm not completely stretched back out yet, and this is only my second start, so I'm still trying to shake off some of that and get a little bit more sharp as I go."
The Reds put Garcia into danger in the bottom of the sixth by starting with three straight hits, including two doubles. Brandon Phillips' RBI double to the wall in right-center scored Chris Heisey and put runners on second and third with no outs. A great leaping catch by Ellis near second base on a Devin Mesoraco liner saved two runs from scoring.
"I want to see what it looks like on replay, but it looked like he jumped twice his height," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Ellis.
Garcia struck out Jay Bruce before reliever Carlos Martinez struck out Ryan Ludwick to kill the rally.
"You think about how that started. Mesoraco hit an absolute missile and Mark Ellis making a great play," Price said. "That's probably a two-run base hit right there, and maybe a game changer, you never know. That was a big play. Now you're at second and third with one out and you're looking for a sacrifice fly, a fly ball in play, and it just didn't work out for us. We weren't able to take advantage of that situation."
St. Louis tapped relievers Logan Ondrusek and Sean Marshall for a combined three hits and a walk in the eighth while scoring two more runs. Opposing hitters are batting .400 (18-for-45) vs. Marshall this season. Besides having a 10.38 ERA, five of his 11 inherited runners have scored.
"I thought his stuff was better," Price said. "He's not vintage Sean Marshall yet. He's still building up arm strength. I thought his stuff was crisper today, closer to what we're used to seeing. But he's not back there yet."
Ludwick homered off Jason Motte leading off the ninth, and Trevor Rosenthal relieved Motte with two outs and a man on first. Pinch-hitter Billy Hamilton's infield single brought Todd Frazier to the plate as the tying run, but Rosenthal struck out Frazier to record the save.
Cincinnati was thwarted in getting its first three-game win streak since April 22-24, as the Cardinals have won eight of their last 10. The Reds are 0-7 this season in the second game of a series after winning the opener.
"We just haven't been able to string a collection of wins together and really ever feel like we've gotten rolling," Price said. "We don't want that to drag on. We need to seize opportunity and go out there and start to win some games, and get back toward the top of the division and do some things. We've been able to tread water, but we need to start to push."