MIAMI -- Four games isn’t a long dry spell without a home run, but when it involves Reds right fielder Aristides Aquino, it sure can seem like it with the type of month he’s having.
During a 5-0 victory over the Marlins on Wednesday, the rookie slugger connected for a three-run home run in the first inning, making him the first Major Leaguer in the modern era to reach 13 homers in 100 career plate appearances.
“It’s ridiculous, man. I’m really happy for him,” Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “He made a wholesale swing change from last year to this year. Obviously, the results speak for themselves, but he’s an infectious guy. He’s got an infectious personality. He keeps everybody smiling and laughing. I’m really happy that, one, he’s on our team and two, he’s had the start that he’s had. It’s been really cool to watch.”
Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies (2017) and Will Smith of the Dodgers this season were the only other Major League players since 1900 to connect for 12 homers in their first 100 plate appearances.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Aquino told Jim Day on Fox Sports Ohio when asked about his record stretch. “I think my main focus right now is to go out there, take good at-bats, help the team to win and take the best at-bat I can take.”
After Miami starter Sandy Alcantara issued a one-out walk to Joey Votto, followed by Eugenio Suárez’s single, Aquino started out down in an 0-2 count. He fouled off the next pitch, a sinker, and then laid off a high fastball and low sinker. Next was a 2-2 pitch that Aquino smoked to left field and watched carry over the seats, nearly hitting a video board to give Cincinnati a 3-0 lead. According to Statcast, the ball left Aquino’s bat at 111.7 mph and carried 418 feet.
"It was a changeup,” Marlins catcher Bryan Holaday said. “We were just trying to bury it, after all those sinkers in. But, we left it up and he didn't miss it.”
Aquino also tied a National League rookie record for most homers in a calendar month, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Cody Bellinger hit 13 homers for the Dodgers in June 2017. Detroit's Rudy York holds the Major League record for home runs by a rookie in a calendar month with 18 in August 1937.
As has been the case with his recent long balls, Aquino is also the first to reach 13 homers in 27 career games, including his one plate appearance in 2018.
“I wish I had words to better describe what we’re all seeing,” Reds manager David Bell said. “But let’s just watch it and enjoy it. He’s doing everything he can to keep it going and continues to have quality at-bats. It’s fun to watch him enjoy it, too. He has such a great way about him.”
In the top of the fourth inning, Aquino led off with a double to left field and scored on Barnhart’s two-out double to right field.
Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani benefited from the run support, but didn’t appear to need much. DeSclafani cruised through a season-high seven innings with two hits, one walk and eight strikeouts during his best start of 2019.
Aquino has hit a home run in five of DeSclafani’s six starts this month.
“Wow, that’s great,” DeSclafani said. “Early leads always help. It’s always nice. But it doesn’t change the game plan at all. I guess it just gives you a little leeway when you have some runs up on the board. Other than that, it’s always just the same plan: attack, get ahead and nothing really changes off of that.”
Batting .315 with a 1.165 OPS this season, the 25-year-old Aquino’s unlikely emergence has been a sensation around the league. Cincinnati non-tendered him on Nov. 30 but re-signed him to a Minor League contract the following day. In that brief window, the other 29 clubs could’ve swooped in, but all passed.
At Spring Training as a non-roster invite, Aquino worked with assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker and changed his approach -- switching to an open stance. His pitch recognition and ability to barrel balls can make good pitches or mistakes end up getting clobbered all the same.
“The way his approach is, it looks like it gives him more time to recognize pitches,” Bell said. “It’s almost as if when he’s locked in, it doesn’t really matter what the pitch is. If it’s in his zone, he’s doing damage on it. His timing is so good that it just gives him more time.”
Named the International League’s Rookie of the Year this season, Aquino slugged 28 homers while batting .299 for Triple-A Louisville before his Aug. 1 promotion to replace Yasiel Puig in right field when Puig was traded to Cleveland.
“I think God’s timing is always perfect,” Aquino said on Fox Sports Ohio. “I always had faith in God that he would give me the opportunity to be back again to show people what I’m capable of doing.”