By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — As they like to say, it is a minuscule sampling, but if long-time Cincinnati Reds fans squeeze their eyes just a bit when Aristides Aquino is in the batter’s box, they might imagine they are seeing Eric Davis.
And it isn’t just because Aquino wears Reds uniform No. 44 and Eric the Red wore Reds uniform No 44. While Davis held his hands a a bit lower than Aquino, Aquino stands nearly erect in the batter’s box, just the way Davis did.
Aquino, like Davis, covers more ground in the outfield than a gazelle crossing the Serengeti Plains with a cheetah in pursuit. Aquino hits the ball so hard it screams in pain, just the way Davis did.
In just eight games since his August 1 call-up, the 24-year-old Aquino is hitting .417 with four homers, a double and 10 RBI. And that is after a 0 for 6 start to his major-league career that had some fans scowling and guffawing that, “This kid is overmatched.”
Since August 1, his promotion day, he leads the National League in slugging percentage (.958) and OPS (1.398).
So where have the Reds been hiding this kid? Aquino played some games in spring training and the few at bats he took grabbed more than cursory attention.
“He opened our eyes, that’s for sure” said manager David Bell. “We also had to make sure, though, because of the point he was at in his career. He had to show us during the season at Triple-A, just to make sure it was real.”
Oh, it is as real as the moon, the sun and the sky. How do 28 home runs stack up as a showpiece? His nickname, ‘The Punisher,’ is legit. He is as real as the sun, the moon and the sky. He is seductive, productive and destructive.
Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley, a former major league pitcher, had the displeasure of facing Davis and is now a press box observer.
“I remember the first time I saw this kid and it was three or four years ago when he was at spring training in Goodyear,” said Brantley. “I saw him hit a ball, it was foul, but it carried over a field and into a distant parking lot. I’d never seen one hit that far, fair or foul, at that park and haven’t seen one since. That grabbed my attention, for sure.”
Brantley, too, sees the Aquino-Davis comparison.
“I do, I see it,” said Brantley. “Aquino is a little bit rangier. Eric was a bit more compact. But the power in the small sample size? Very reminiscent of Eric, along with the speed and the way he goes and catches the ball.
“It makes you take a little bit of a double-take when you look at that kid,” Brantley continued. “He is a big, long tall kid that can do about anything and that’s kind of scary.”
Aquino, like Davis, has hit some home runs so far that Kentucky State Troopers were radioed to be on the lookout for an unidentified flying object. But the home run hit hit Friday night to right field off Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Yu Darvish impressed Brantley more than the down-range missiles.
“It only landed three or four rows into the seats,” said Brantley. “But it was a cut fastball in on his hands. How many guys do you see take a front-door cutter and hit it out the other way? Few. Count ‘em on one hand.”
Darvish was astounded. After the ball nestled into Souvenir City, Darvish looked in at catcher Victor Caratini, hands on hips, as if to say, “How did he hit that ball” Said Brantley, “Those are the ones I marvel at.”
Brantley knows, though, and hopes Aquino realizes it, the pitchers are going to adjust to his swing. And he has to adjust. He has to be ready for those low-and-away sliders that are bound to start arriving with sizzle on ‘em.
TV broadcaster Chris Welsh, a former major league pitcher, mostly faced Davis, but was a teammate in 1986.
That was A Season To Remember for Davis — 27 home runs and 80 stolen bases. Not even Joe Morgan stole 80 bases. His high was 67 and his home run peak was 27 in the 1976. Davis followed that ’86 season with 37 home runs and 50 stolen bases.
Speaking of power the other way, Welsh said there was a game in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in 1986 when Pete Rose managed the Reds.
“Davis hit a home run the opposite way, way up in the right field seats, and Rose said, ‘That’s the longest ball I’ve ever seen hit there, by anybody in any direction. And Pete played a season there.”
Welsh, too, sees the Aquino-Davis comparison.
“They had speed and the great raw power,” said Welsh. “Davis was more gifted in the speed area. Eric was as fast as he was strong.
“But Aquino is deceptively fast,” Welsh added. “Aquino has the kind of power to do the same thing Davis did. He sure is exciting. Eric was really exciting. I hope he keeps his head on straight, the way Eric always did.”