CINCINNATI – Nearly three years removed from being the talk of baseball during one spectacular stretch of power, Reds right fielder Aristides Aquino showed on Monday that his powerful swing could once again be a clear and present danger to pitchers.
During a 7-4 Cincinnati loss to the Cubs at Great American Ball Park, Aquino slugged a pair of home runs that brought back memories of August 2019, when he hit 14 of them in one month and broke several rookie records.
“He’s smoking the ball, I love to see it, man,” said left fielder Tommy Pham, who also hit a homer in the loss.
Aquino’s production plummeted after 2019, and he hit rock bottom during the first month of the 2022 season. On April 30, he was designated for assignment and cleared waivers to go outright to Triple-A Louisville after batting .049 (2-for-41) with one homer and 23 strikeouts in 15 games. He was hitless in the last 25 at-bats before his demotion.
While at Louisville, Aquino was credited for his positive attitude and his efforts to turn things around. In 10 games for Louisville, he was batting .314 with a 1.148 OPS and four home runs.
“It’s really tough when you’re not doing good when you’re struggling,” Aquino said. “You’re always trying to do your best. I just gained my confidence back. I have the opportunity to be on the field playing every day, that’s great, and then I’m getting my confidence back and I’m feeling great.”
Aquino was brought back to the big leagues last weekend as a substitute player in Toronto when the team was shorthanded with a few unvaccinated players on the restricted list. In the first inning of a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday, he hit a two-run double. When Joey Votto hit the game-winning homer, the veteran imitated Aquino’s celebrational move by raising his hands and sticking his tongue out after touching home plate.
“That was pretty cool,” Aquino said.
The right-handed-hitting Aquino’s contract was selected on Monday to keep him up with the Reds as they enter a stretch in which they will be facing multiple left-handed starters.
In the first inning with two outs vs. Cubs lefty starter Drew Smyly, Aquino looked bad whiffing at three straight knuckle-curves to strike out and leave the bases loaded. Given an 0-1 knuckle-curve again in the fourth inning, he flied out to center field.
After Reds starter Vladimir Gutierrez put the Reds behind, 4-0, during a four-run fourth inning, his lineup came to life in the sixth. Pham hit a 3-1 Smyly pitch to left field for a solo homer. With two outs and one on, Smyly threw Aquino another knuckle-curve in a full count.
This time, “The Punisher” didn’t miss the pitch when it stayed over the plate. Aquino crushed a drive to left-center field that, according to Statcast, had a 106.7 mph exit velocity and traveled a projected 429 feet.
“When I faced him in the first at-bat, he threw me a lot [offspeed], and I was out in front,” Aquino said. “I thought, ‘I have to let him pitch because he’s not going to throw me anything.’ Then he threw me a good pitch to hit, put it over the plate and you see what happened.”
Cincinnati was down, 7-3, in the eighth when Aquino hit a 1-2 slider from reliever Chris Martin for another loud homer -- this time to left-center field. It left his bat at 110.1 mph and went 439 feet.
“It’s part of the business, man,” Pham said of Aquino’s stint in Louisville. “He had to go down there and continue to get better and he did. Kudos to him. He did everything he was supposed to do.”
After the homers, Aquino’s teammates were visibly excited for him and celebrated in the dugout.
“It was great to see them react the way they did,” Aquino said. “They know that I put in a lot of work and everybody goes through rough stretches as I’ve done in the past. It’s all the hard work that I’ve done here recently that I’ve been able to do well.”
Aquino also flexed his defensive muscle in the fifth inning. On his leadoff hit to right field, Cubs center fielder Rafael Ortega tried for a double. Aquino made a perfect throw to second base to easily get Ortega and notch his third assist of the season.
“He can do a lot,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Great athlete, a really good defender, runs the bases well. If we can get him going offensively, no question he can help us win games.”