PITTSBURGH -- When Aristides "PJ" Aquino steps to the plate, he does so tall and confidently. As the opposing pitcher readies, he brings his bat up perpendicular to the ground and stares through it, as if he’s a golfer reading the break of a green or an archer lining up
PITTSBURGH -- When Aristides "PJ" Aquino steps to the plate, he does so tall and confidently. As the opposing pitcher readies, he brings his bat up perpendicular to the ground and stares through it, as if he’s a golfer reading the break of a green or an archer lining up his shot.
When Aquino swings the bat, the ball tends to go a long way and, for now, it tends to make history. He’s shattered record after record with a blaze of homers this season, and he etched another one in the record books in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.
• Box score
After going a career-long four games without a homer, Aquino lifted No. 12 in his first at-bat off Pirates starter Mitch Keller. Even though Aquino’s blast flew a Statcast-projected 402 feet, the ball barely cleared the fence in right-center field, giving the Reds an early lead. But it put Aquino in the books. Again.
The list so far?
• Most home runs in an MLB player’s first 12, 14, 16, 17 and 22 games.
• Tied for most home runs in an MLB player’s first 20 games.
• First MLB rookie and first Reds player to homer in three consecutive innings.
Aquino is now just two homers shy of reaching the Reds’ franchise record of 14 home runs in a calendar month, set by Greg Vaughn and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. He has nine games to get there.
On a team with star sluggers like Joey Votto and Eugenio Suárez, Aquino is holding down the No. 4 spot in the order, propelling the Reds almost every night.
“We’re asking a lot of him, and he’s really stepped up,” Cincinatti manager David Bell said. “Really, it just says a lot about who he is as a person and where he’s gotten to as a hitter.”
Bell saw another building block put in place in Aquino’s approach with the homer on Friday. The 25-year-old sat on a hard-breaking curveball from Keller, then laid into a slider -- an offering that generated 10 whiffs and five strikeouts -- that nicked the bottom of the strike zone.
“That’s impressive, when you can do it off a good pitcher in that situation, when they make their pitch,” Bell said. “It just says so much about where he is right now as a hitter.”
The expected regression for a red-hot rookie just refuses to come for Aquino, who has a .338 batting average and .873 slugging percentage, but he said he’s beginning to see signs of pitchers taking notice.
“To be honest, I just try to have a good at-bat,” Aquino said through an interpreter. “I know they’re going to kind of pitch me, move around those pitches [to make it] uncomfortable, but the only thing that I can control is to put a good swing on the ball.”
Even opponents can be stumped by what to do next, especially when he collects a three-hit day like he did Friday. Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, “We’ll try to find a way to pitch him better as the series continues.”
The other thing that Aquino can control is his demeanor: the way he carries himself, the way he prepares for games and the effort level he shows. He’s checked off all those boxes for his manager.
“That’s what’s allowed him to keep this going now, since he’s been here,” Bell said. “He got off to the great start, hitting the home runs, but just his mature approach and his demeanor. He’s very confident at the plate.”
That confidence brimmed over in the eighth, as Aquino drew a full count with two outs and a runner on second against Keone Kela, one of the Pirates’ premier setup relievers. On the fourth curveball he saw from Kela, Aquino turned and drove it into the left-field corner for a go-ahead run at the time.
“I think those are the moments that make a player a really good player,” Aquino said, “those moments where it’s clutch, clutch at-bat, and I really enjoy those at-bats.”
Though that lead didn’t stand up due to Raisel Iglesias’ four-hit outing in a span of 12 pitches, the final of which allowed Pablo Reyes to walk the game off for the Pirates, Aquino showed again why the Reds consider him such a big part of their future. Whether or not the team can make a late-season streak down the stretch, his development is a huge key for the club.
“His approach is really solid,” Bell said, “so we’ll keep continuing to challenge him.”
Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.