Aquino proves he can still punish baseballs

April 4th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- “The Punisher” was back in business on Saturday. Reds outfielder -- a substitute for the ejected Nick Castellanos against the Cardinals -- added a key insurance run with a home run in the 9-6 Cincinnati win.

In the sixth inning, Aquino crushed Andrew Miller’s 0-1 pitch into the left-field seats. It had an exit velocity of 112 mph, according to Statcast.

“Good for him. Each run we score is a big run -- His contribution last night and what it does for his mentality,” Reds manager David Bell said on Sunday.

That was Aquino's fifth career homer with a 110-plus mph exit velocity out of his 22 career blasts. The only Reds player with more 110-plus mph homers since 2019 is Eugenio Suárez (6).

Aquino, who turns 27 on April 22, famously crushed 14 home runs in August 2019 as a rookie as he brought his “Punisher” nickname with him from Triple-A Louisville. He struggled the final month of the ’19 season and didn’t regain much traction in ‘20.

Lacking both playing time and consistency at the plate, Aquino spent much of last season at the alternate training site. In 23 games for the Reds, he batted .170 with two homers. But he had a decent Spring Training this year, and out of Minor League options, he was one of the final players to make the Reds’ Opening Day roster.

“We want him to be a big part of this team,” Bell said. “It’s not always easy when you’re getting one at-bat here, one at-bat there. But that’s part of it all. He’s going to get starts too. It’ll be nice to get him going. We all know what he’s capable of. His at-bats, his approach, his balance, mechanically and everything, he has looked really consistent all spring.”

Pérez has nice debut and his first AB
Left-handed reliever Cionel Pérez made his Reds debut in Saturday’s win and gave the club 1 2/3 innings with one earned run, one hit, one walk and two strikeouts.

Pérez, 24, stands at 5-foot-11 and 162 pounds, but can throw gas. His four-seam fastball, according to Statcast, averaged 96.5 mph and topped at 98.7 mph.

“I’ve had a blast catching him in Spring Training and then obviously catching him [Saturday],” Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “I don’t know if I’m taller than him or not, but I kind of feel like I am, and it’s a rare occurrence. For him to be able to get 99 out of his arm with his body is crazy to me. It feels like it gets a different gear.”

Pérez, acquired from the Astros in the American League, also had his first at-bat in the Majors. He drew about as tough of a pitcher as he could in Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks, who can throw more than 100 mph and was throwing 98 mph in his first regular-season game back from Tommy John surgery.

In the bottom of the seventh, Pérez grounded out to second base, but his sprint up the line made it a closer play.

“It was very impressive,” Bell said. “First and foremost, he pitched really well and gave us multiple innings. That was the best part. I think it was fun for him. I told him before he went to the plate, ‘Please don’t feel like you have to swing. Better if you don’t.’ He was too tempted, he was seeing the ball well. It was pretty impressive to be able to get to that fastball. Uncomfortable sending a pitcher up there who hadn’t had an at-bat, but it was our only choice.”

Getting their shots?
Having some fans back at Great American Ball Park has been a welcomed bit of normalcy after the pandemic kept everybody out of the stands in 2020. Cardinals players were vaccinated last Tuesday in Cincinnati, and several members of the Reds were also vaccinated last week.

Clubs were informed on Monday that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85 percent of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated.

As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.

“I don’t know exactly where we are,” Bell said. “We’re working through that. It’s still very early in the process. It’s a personal decision. There’s a lot of information that’s being accumulated and [we] just try to, we’re in the early stages of the process. I don’t know how it’ll end up.”