Aquino's record-setting HR stretch no fluke

Rookie collects three hits and three RBIs, but Reds lose in 12 innings

August 30th, 2019

MIAMI -- continued to rewrite the record books with his home run pace on Thursday night, but the Reds' rookie right fielder doesn’t achieve these feats with just power. Aquino also has a plan and puts in the work to prepare.

Aquino was Cincinnati’s only tangible offense as he delivered three hits and all three RBIs -- including yet another homer -- but it wasn’t enough as the Marlins countered with four solo shots to hand the Reds a 4-3 loss in 12 innings at Marlins Park. Harold Ramirez delivered the walk-off homer off to begin the bottom of the 12th. Iglesias dropped to 2-10 for the season.

Well before Aquino stepped into the batters’ box, he came to the clubhouse and sought out hitting coach Turner Ward and assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker, ready to find solutions against Marlins starting pitcher Robert Dugger.

“One thing that might not get talked about enough is this kid has tremendous aptitude,” Ecker said. “He has this uncanny ability to come in every day and he really cares about how he is going to solve the puzzle that day.”

As coaches went over scouting reports and video, they told Aquino to be ready for sliders in the zone. Although the Reds didn’t take batting practice on the field, Aquino hit in the indoor cage and took breaking balls off a machine to be ready.

With on third base and two outs in the first inning, Aquino attacked an 0-1 curveball in the strike zone and cleared the left-center-field fence with a two-run homer. It was his 14th home run of the season -- and this month -- to set a new National League rookie record. For one night, he was tied with the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger, who knocked 13 homers in June 2017. Rudy York of the Tigers holds the Major League rookie record of 18 in August 1937. Sammy Sosa of the Cubs holds the overall record with 20 homers in June '98.

That’s not all, because Aquino also tied the all-time Reds record for most home runs in a month by any player. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson hit 14 in August 1962, and Greg Vaughn tied Robinson in September '99.

“I don’t know the exact details, but I know each time he’s hitting one, it seems like he’s setting records,” Reds manager David Bell said. “That doesn’t surprise me. You feel like you’re watching somebody break a record.”

It was Aquino’s second first-inning homer in two days. During Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Miami, Aquino became the first Major Leaguer in the modern era to reach 13 home runs in 100 career plate appearances. No. 14 came in his 104th career plate appearance. (He had one plate appearance in 2018.)

For a while, Aquino’s homer stood as the Reds’ only hit against Dugger, who retired 16 of the next 17 batters, including 14 in a row. The next hit came from none other than Aquino, who lasered a line drive that ate up third baseman Starlin Castro. Statcast tracked the exit velocity of the ball at 110.6 mph.

With two outs in the eighth inning, Votto lined a single into center field against lefty reliever Jarlin Garcia, and right-hander Ryne Stanek walked on four pitches to bring up Aquino. On a 1-1 pitch, he overwhelmed another infielder with a sharp grounder over the mound and off the glove of second baseman Isan Diaz for his third hit and third RBI of the game. The exit velocity of that knock was 104 mph, and it gave him five hits over the last two games.

Aquino, who was the 2016 Reds Minor League Player of the Year while with Class A Advanced Daytona, batted .216 the following season at Double-A Pensacola and didn’t stand out there again in 2018. Cincinnati non-tendered him last Nov. 30, but the organization re-signed him to a Minor League contract and invited him to Spring Training. It was there Ward and Ecker began working with Aquino. Ecker encouraged him to change his hitting approach and switch to his open stance, where he faces the pitcher before the delivery and closes up as the ball is released.

“There’s a lot that gets baked into that, but it comes down to overall movement efficiency,” Ecker said. “Then it’s really Aquino taking ownership of the ways he thinks he can one, manage the strike zone really well and two, get off really profitable swings.”

At Triple-A Louisville this season, Aquino hit 28 home runs while honing his new approach with manager Jody Davis and hitting coach Leon Durham.

“It’s a whole village,” Ecker said. “There’s a lot of support system in our Minor Leagues for all of our players. Our goal, especially with Turner’s philosophy, is to make sure they are their own hitting coach. This is kind of an example of that.”