CINCINNATI -- Tony Cingrani took a major step forward in his recovery from lower back soreness on Monday, when he threw a 25-pitch bullpen session without pain or incident. Although that's good news for Cingrani and the club, the Reds are still left with more questions than answers regarding the next step for the 24-year-old left-hander.
Pitching coach Bryan Price said Cingrani will play catch on Tuesday and see how his back feels. Beyond that, the plan is much more uncertain. Price said Cingrani will either throw a longer bullpen session, toss a simulated game or pitch in relief in one of the final six games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park this week. He could also go to Cincinnati's Spring Training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., to pitch in the instructional league.
Because the Reds don't want to use Cingrani in a high-stakes situation without knowing if he's fully ready to go, Price said it's difficult to promise an opportunity for him in an actual Major League game.
"Those other things, we're going to have to look at those options," Price said. "Does a simulated game tell us enough? Does pitching in Goodyear for a game or two tell us anything? And then what role does he fill for us? We've got a lot of questions, about the same questions you do."
What Price and the Reds do know is that Cingrani, who has gone 7-4 with a 2.77 ERA in 18 starts during his rookie season, did well in Monday's bullpen session.
"He was around the plate with good effort," Price said. "He wasn't favoring anything, there was no discomfort, so we're real happy with how it went. Now we're just looking for the consistency -- day in, day out pain-free type of environment for Tony."
Cingrani's back first became an issue when he left an Aug. 20 start after just 3 2/3 innings. He missed two turns in the rotation and came back on Sept. 5. On Sept. 10, he made it just 1 2/3 innings before his back acted up again, and he hasn't pitched in a game since.
Prior to Monday, Cingrani had done most of his work off flat ground, as head trainer Paul Lessard said Friday that there was still tenderness when he tried throwing off a mound. Price said it never felt like Cingrani returned to square one in his rehab, though, and the Reds want to make sure that doesn't happen.
Although Price and manager Dusty Baker would love to have Cingrani back as soon as possible, they won't push him, even with the playoffs quickly approaching.
"Tony has had a terrific season for us," Price said. "I think we feel now with [starter Johnny Cueto] and [reliever Sean Marshall] coming back and a bunch of other guys throwing the ball well, I don't think we feel as naked as we may have if Johnny wasn't currently healthy. That being said, having another guy that could potentially start and really have some success late in the season or in the postseason would definitely make us feel a little better."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.