CINCINNATI -- It took a batting stance change for Reds rookie right fielder Aristides Aquino to make his moniker -- “The Punisher" -- more accurate.
Non-tendered and taken off the 40-man roster after last season, Aquino was re-signed to a Minor League deal the following day but was clearly at a career crossroads. When he came to Spring Training, he impressed the coaching staff and manager David Bell. And in Saturday's 10-1 win over the Cubs at Great American Ball Park, Aquino hit three home runs in consecutive innings, giving him seven in his first 10 career games, tying a Major League record.
“He opened our eyes for sure,” Bell said on Saturday. “He was at a point in his career where he had to show it during the season also, just to make sure it was real. For a whole new coaching staff, where everybody was new, he really stood out.”
Aquino was the Chief Bender Award winner as the Reds’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2016 after he hit 23 home runs with 26 doubles, 12 triples and 79 RBIs for Class A Advanced Daytona. But he didn’t improve in '17 at Double-A Pensacola, batting just .216 with 17 homers and 145 strikeouts, and showed modest improvement there during ’18.
Cincinnati still called up Aquino straight from Pensacola last season, and he was 0-for-1 in his lone big league at-bat on Aug. 19 vs. the Giants. This year during camp as a non-roster invitee, he connected with hitting coach Turner Ward and assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker.
“I think Donnie actually spent quite a bit of time with him,” Bell said. “He saw him as a guy who had all this talent, and I think he saw him as a great challenge -- ‘How do we help him get the most out of himself?’ That started in Spring Training, and [Aquino] was able to carry it over.”
Aquino’s more traditional closed stance was changed to an exaggerated open one where he faces the pitcher -- much like the one used by former big leaguer Tony Batista. Once the pitch is thrown, Aquino closes up the stance and swings -- usually very, very hard.
“I changed my stance, so I could be better at recognizing the pitches. That helped me to have more balance and see better pitches,” Aquino said. “I’ve got better balance in my body. It helps me to hit the ball.”
The results have shown that. The 24-year-old batted .299 with a .992 OPS, 28 homers and 53 RBIs for Triple-A Louisville. On Aug. 1, he was called back up to the Reds after the trade of Yasiel Puig to Cleveland. On Saturday against the Cubs, he started in right field for the eighth time in nine games.
Aquino homered in the second and third innings on Saturday against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks and in the fourth against Dillon Maples. On Thursday vs. Chicago, he crushed a homer with an exit velocity of 118.3 mph. Since Statcast was introduced in 2015, it was the hardest-hit ball of any type for the Reds. It was also tied with the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez and Pete Alonso of the Mets for the hardest-hit homer of 2019.
Entering Saturday night, Aquino had put 16 balls in play, with an average exit velocity of 90.6 mph and five barrels.
His family and friends in the Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo are enjoying the early success.
“People back home say my stance is really ugly, but I hit the ball really well,” said Aquino, who got his nickname from his brother when they were kids.
Aquino has drawn some comparisons to former Reds great Eric Davis, who, like Aquino, wore No. 44.
“I know Eric carried his hands a little bit lower, but other than that, I do see similarities in their swings,” Bell said.
Iglesias dealing with soreness
For the second straight night, Reds shortstop José Iglesias was not in the starting lineup. Iglesias has been bothered by right biceps soreness.
“He would have been the last guy off the bench last night,” Bell said. “I would say he’s more available today, and hopefully he’s back in there tomorrow. It’s not a medical concern, long term.”
Iglesias was on the field Saturday afternoon to practice his throws to first base.
Players arrive late
For Saturday, Reds players were told they didn’t need to arrive to Great American Ball Park until 5 p.m. ET, about three hours later than normal. Some players did come earlier, but the majority didn’t. That didn’t mean it was a day of rest. Upon arrival, hitters were in the indoor cage hitting high-velocity pitches from a machine. Defensive practice on the field was optional.
“I feel like the more you can mix it up, the more creative you can get in the way they prepare for a game,” Bell said. “This time of year, you’ve been practicing for months. The more efficient you can be, and when you practice, to have it intense and game-like, I think that’s the way to go.”