CINCINNATI -- In such a short time, Reds rookie Aristides Aquino’s at-bats have been appointment viewing. Not just for fans, but for teammates in the dugout and bullpen.
Team personnel certainly won’t mind running out of superlatives to describe the sensation the right fielder has become, especially if he keeps hitting home runs. Aquino did it again Saturday with his 11th homer of the season, which came with two outs in the fifth inning vs. the Cardinals and was key in a 6-1 victory at Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati held a 2-1 lead when a two-out rally began with back-to-back singles by Josh VanMeter and Freddy Galvis against St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas. That set the table for Aquino, who attacked a first-pitch slider and lifted it over the fence in center field for a three-run shot to give the Reds a 5-1 lead.
“I was ready for the fastball. He hung a slider and I put a good swing on the ball,” Aquino said via translator Julio Morillo. “Thank God I’m in my best moment right now as a player. I’m just going to enjoy this moment, keep doing what I’m doing out there and hopefully things just go well for me along the season.”
Over his 16 games this season, Aquino is batting .345 with a 1.354 OPS. Adding to the amazement, 58 percent of Aquino’s 19 hits have been home runs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s reached 11 career homers faster than anyone in modern Major League history. Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins had 10 homers in his first 17 games in 2017.
Only Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt reached 11 homers faster during a single season. In 1976, Schmidt reached that total in 56 plate appearances. Aquino’s latest long ball came on his 58th.
Reds teammates marvel over the achievements, especially those who played with Aquino in the Minor Leagues. Only two seasons ago at Double-A, he was a .216 hitter. After last season, Cincinnati non-tendered him Nov. 30 and re-signed him on Dec. 1.
“Now you’re seeing he’s reaping the benefit of the tweaks he’s made in his swing. I’ve seen him where he’s been bad. Donnie [Ecker, assistant hitting coach] believed in him and helped him out,” said center fielder Nick Senzel, who hit a leadoff home run to right field in the bottom of the first against Mikolas for a 1-0 lead. “He’s such a great kid. He’s humble. He brings a lot of energy to the team. It’s nice to see him have success, because as a team, we love him here. We’re really proud with how he stuck with it because he’s been in the Minor Leagues for a long time.”
Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani worked five innings and allowed one earned run, five hits and three walks to go along with four strikeouts. DeSclafani gave up a second-inning solo homer to Matt Carpenter that made it a 1-1 game. In the fourth, Phillip Ervin notched a leadoff single and later scored the go-ahead run on a Jose Iglesias sacrifice fly.
But the moment of the night came from Aquino, who put the game away with his big drive.
“Just changed the complexion of the whole game,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s doing it in the middle of our lineup and in big spots. He’s locked in. At the same time, we believe in his approach. More importantly, he does. He has a real good idea of what he’s doing at the plate.”
Teammates have become a little spoiled by the power.
“It’s funny because I was talking about how we almost expect him to hit a home run every at-bat now,” said reliever Michael Lorenzen, who notched two hits as a batter in the game. “This was before he hit that home run. I’m thinking that … ‘We’ll take a single. Just hit a single and that’s good enough.’ And he hits a home run. It’s unbelievable. It’s one of those things where his approach is so good now. Before, I felt like it was a guy that you could spin the ball to and you could rely on him chasing quite a bit and not having that pitch recognition. He doesn’t have that issue this year.
“I’ve seen him take pitches -- good pitches -- down and away, sliders. Some reliever’s best sliders and starter’s best sliders or best breaking ball. He’s taking those and he’s hitting the mistake. That’s where you see this is the real deal. It’s not something that’s going to fade away.”
The Reds’ franchise record for most home runs in a month is 14 and belongs to both Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (August 1962) and Greg Vaughn (September 1999). That record is certainly vulnerable, since 14 games remain for Cincinnati this month. Sammy Sosa of the Cubs holds the Major League record with 20 homers in June 1998.
Aquino also has hit 10 homers over his last 11 games. According to Stats Inc., the only other two rookies since 1900 who have hit 10 homers in an 11-game span were Cody Bellinger in 2017 and Rudy York in 1937. Although only 25 years old, Aquino is aware that he’s been making history on an almost routine basis.
“But I don’t pay more attention to it because I just want to be focused on the game. The most important thing is to win games,” Aquino said.