Cingrani keeps Washington in check as Cincinnati wins series finale

As a left-hander growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Tony Cingrani's idols were Cole Hamels and Johan Santana.

In his third start in the major leagues, Cingrani did a reasonable impersonation of those illustrious lefties, serving as the stopper for the Cincinnati Reds. Limiting the Washington Nationals to two hits and striking out 11 in six shutout innings, Cingrani propelled the Reds to a 5-2 victory before 36,457, halting Cincinnati's three-game skid at Nationals Park.

Washington (13-12) moves on to a four-game series that begins Monday night at National League East leader Atlanta. The Nats had hoped to arrive riding a four-game winning streak. Instead, they will try to forget their miserable 14-strikeout performance as they prepare for a formidable pitching staff that limited them to five runs in a three-game sweep two weeks ago.

"It's a big series, regardless what time of the year it is," Nats first-baseman Adam LaRoche said. "They came in here and killed us, so it would be nice to kind of even that up."

On Sunday, Cingrani silenced the bats of the Nats. The 2011 third-round draft choice even tied a major league record by striking out four in one inning, including Denard Span, who reached base after whiffing on a curveball that bounced past Reds catcher Corky Miller.

Cingrani's most important work came later in that fourth inning. With two runners in scoring position after Danny Espinosa's double, Cingrani fanned Bryce Harper with a high fastball. Then with the bases loaded, he struck out Ian Desmond and LaRoche.

"He had a really good fastball, and he was using it," said LaRoche, who fanned three times in going 0-for-4. "He's got that extra gear on his fastball."

It was more surprising stuff from the 23-year-old, who started the year at Triple-A Louisville but was promoted after an injury to Opening Day starter Johnny Cueto. In 18 innings, Cingrani (2-0) has allowed 12 hits and three runs, walked four and struck out 28.

Nats third-baseman Anthony Rendon (1-for-2), a college teammate of Cingrani's at Rice, was not surprised.

"He has that motion, so that's what he kind of thrives upon," Rendon said. "He has that little bit of deception, so the ball jumps on you a little more."

Cingrani's sharp work was in contrast to that of Nats left-hander Ross Detwiler (1-2), who entered with a 1.38 ERA but allowed 11 hits in five trouble-filled innings, matching the most hits he has surrendered in a game. Brandon Phillips' two-run single in the first inning gave the Reds the lead for good.

"The biggest mistake he made was to Phillips in the first inning," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "He had him 2-2, he was coming in on him and he left it out in the middle of the plate."

After Cingrani departed, Washington pecked away at three relievers, getting RBI doubles from Kurt Suzuki and Desmond. But in the ninth inning, closer Aroldis Chapman (five saves) ended it the way Cingrani started it -- with nasty left-handed stuff -- as he struck out Span to close the game.

As they try to recover Monday night in Atlanta, the Nats will throw Stephen Strasburg (1-4) against another youngster with electric stuff, 22-year-old right-hander Julio Teheran (1-0).

A change of scenery might do some good for the Nats hitter who is struggling most. LaRoche is hitless in his last 26 at-bats, including 13 strikeouts.

"I've got one of two options here," LaRoche said. "I can either keep my head up, keep swinging, or I can pack up and go home. I'm not ready to go home yet."