On the afternoon of April 28, Rice University head baseball coach Wayne Graham was afforded some free time to catch one of his former players pitching on television. It was Reds rookie left-hander Tony Cingrani facing the Nationals.

Graham would not be disappointed as he watched Cingrani have a buzz-worthy performance -- 11 strikeouts and two hits over six scoreless innings for a 5-2 win. That was the day that Cingrani became the fifth Reds pitcher to record four strikeouts in one inning.

It wasn't just that his former pitcher achieved the feat, but just how Cingrani did it.

"I thought that was really thrilling to see him do that," Graham said by phone last week. "That one inning was one of the most impressive innings I've ever seen thrown in professional baseball. He was in trouble, and it looks like he made up his mind that, 'I belong here and now this is my way to show you I belong up here.'"

Belonging and getting to stay in the Majors could be different things in this case. Whether or not Cingrani gets to remain looms as a very large question for the Reds. With Johnny Cueto due to have his second Minor League rehab-assignment outing on Tuesday, the ace could return as soon as Sunday. Reds manager Dusty Baker, pitching coach Bryan Price and general manager Walt Jocketty will likely have to chose between keeping Cingrani or fifth starter Mike Leake.

"Whatever they tell me to do, I will do," Cingrani said. "Leake has been here for four years, and I wouldn't be surprised if I go back down."

Leake will make his next start on Wednesday vs. the Marlins, while Cingrani will take the series finale in Miami on Thursday. Whatever the decision is, there is no debating that Cingrani helped the club get through what could have been a debilitating absence of Cueto.

"The silver lining is he's gotten extended time here, so the lining is that he's put us in a position to win," Baker said. "What if he had come up and got shelled, and then who are we to turn to then? Who's our next line of defense? Had we lost four out of his five starts or whatever it is, [heck], we'd be seven [games] out, or worse. That's that he's done. He's kept us in games."

At the Major League level, Cingrani has kept the Reds in games with primarily one pitch -- a mid-90s mph fastball that every hitter knows is coming. In five starts this season since he was called up from Triple-A Louisville to replace Cueto, Cingrani is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA, seven walks and 37 strikeouts in 28 innings.

"You can't ask for anything more. This is where you want to play," Cingrani said of his experience thus far.