These three Reds are banking on new plate approaches

September 13th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- The Reds’ 2022 season is in the final weeks, but batting stance fixes, swing adjustments and approach alterations are still an ongoing process for some hitters.

Aristides Aquino, Nick Senzel and Jose Barrero have undergone recent overhauls, and during the Reds’ 6-3 loss to the Pirates on Monday night at Great American Ball Park, there were moments where their changes provided optimism.

“It seems drastic, what we're talking about right now. But that's what players do all the time. They're constantly making adjustments every day,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I give them credit for realizing what they want to do and being willing to listen and mainly just trust themselves to be able to do that. I really believe … that through this they're going to be better.”

Aquino, who had been seeing his playing time dwindle and his chances to remain on the roster fading, opened his stance and added a toe-tap. He has enjoyed the most tangible results -- including on Monday.

Facing Pirates starter Bryse Wilson with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Aquino scorched a 1-2 fastball into the left-field seats for a two-run home run that gave Cincinnati a 2-1 lead. He walked in the sixth inning, then ripped a two-out single at 106.1 mph through third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes and into left field in the bottom of the eighth.

In his last 10 games, Aquino is batting .394 (13-for-33) with four homers, three doubles and nine RBIs. The stretch has included three career-high three-hit games.

“There's so many things that go into it and there's been some real keys along the way, but mainly he's just really in a good position to hit,” Bell said. “His timing has caught up to the adjustments he's made. He's given himself a chance every single pitch. When he does that, with his ability, good things are going to happen.”

Senzel was out of the lineup for the previous two games and did extensive work behind the scenes. He shortened his once-wide stance with the objective being hitting through the ball for harder contact.

“I’ve got three weeks left in the season, and I’m just trying to think about how I can be a better player and contribute more to this club,” Senzel said. “I feel like this year, it hasn’t obviously been the results I’d like. Just have to take a strong look at what I need to do to make some adjustments offensively. I’m going to do that.”

Senzel was 1-for-3, but he delivered the desired harder contact Monday night. His second-inning groundout had a 103.6 mph exit velocity. A fifth-inning leadoff single to left field left his bat at 101 mph, and he added a sixth-inning lineout to center field at 103.8 mph.

Entering the game, Senzel was ranked near the bottom of the league in exit velocity (11th percentile) and hard-hit percentage (10th percentile), according to Statcast. He had an 0-for-8 skid and was batting .202 with one homer since the All-Star break.

“It did feel weird,” Senzel said of his changed stance. “Anytime you narrow up and try something different, it just feels so out of the ordinary and so awkward at first.”

Before Sunday’s game in Milwaukee, Senzel spent about 30 minutes on the field hitting in the cage as Bell and hitting coaches Alan Zinter and Joel McKeithan looked on. Also watching were teammates Jonathan India and Kyle Farmer, who gave Senzel feedback as he tinkered with the approach.

“That actually probably helped me more than working with Joel and the hitting guys,” Senzel said. "It’s a little bit easier to talk to teammates about hitting because it’s not too much. It was nice to hear them give me feedback and actual care and watch me. I love those guys. I trust their opinion.”

Barrero, who was given two games off during the previous homestand, has also adjusted his batting stance. Over his last three games, he is 4-for-9.

When Aquino slugged his homer for the lead in the fourth inning, the advantage proved fleeting. Starting pitcher Mike Minor gave up two of his three homers in the game during a five-run top of the fifth inning. The first three batters of the inning notched hits in the rally, including Rodolfo Castro with a three-run homer to left field that gave Pittsburgh the lead for good.

Minor allowed six runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks over five innings, with five strikeouts.