By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — To witness the reaction of Aristides Aquino about his two high-profile awards is to think he thought somebody was handing him a piece of Dubble Bubble gum.
No big deal, nothing to fuss about. Actually, in a humble sort of way, it is what the 25-year-old Cincinnati Reds expects of himself.
Aquino is only the fourth player in MLB history to win both the Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month awards in the same month.
And yet his attitude fits perfectly with a song sung by Tim McGraw: “Always Be Humble and Kind.”
Aquino lives that credo off the field but on the field he is anything but kind to opposing pitchers. In August, his slash line was .320/.391/.767. He hit 14 home runs and drove in 33.
The 14 home runs are the most hit by a rookie in any month of any season. On August 10, he hit home runs in three consecutive innings against the Cubs.
That is legendary and iconic stuff and yet to the soft-spoken Dominican with wide-set eyes and Jheri curls has both spikes firmly dug into the grass in right field.
Asked what he prides most about his first month in a big league uniform, he didn’t mention home runs and he didn’t mention runs batted in. “My first hit in the big leagues, even though it was a single and not a home run,” he said.
And he believes he isn’t doing this by himself, believes he is receiving help from the big ballplayer in the sky.
“First of all, it is a blessing from God,” he said. “And this isn’t going to stop right now.”
That’s confidence, which he has by the shipload, but it isn’t cocky. Just close.
Manager David Bell notices Aquino coming out of his shy shell, with a personality emerging.
“He has the ability to say things, when asked about accomplishments, he can say it in a way that if other people said it, it might come across as cocky,” said Bell. “When he says it, it is so real and he believes in it so much that it is taken the right way. It is his humble way of saying the truth. It comes across beautifully.”
That is probably why Aquino is so matter-of-fact about the two awards. He believes so much in his ability that being the best player in baseball for a month is just another month at the office.
Observers are waiting for pitchers to make adjustments when they face him, find the holes in his swing. Are there any?
“You can get exposed, if you make the wrong adjustment,” said Bell. “I definitely don’t see any holes where he has to make major swing adjustments or in his approach. He has handled the off-speed, he has handled the fastball, he has handled the pitch inside.”
Bell believes that over time pitchers will pitch him with more care and better locatiion. They will try to be more perfect, which could lead to more bases on balls, if Aquino is patient enough to take them.
“That’s the next test for him, if he is going to be patient,” said Bell. “From what I’ve seen so far, it really has been impressive.”
Bell was a solid major league player, a guy who hit 123 home runs during his career — not a bundle, but above average.
“The thing is,” said Bell. “He is not trying to hit home runs. He is trying to hit the ball hard. His swing path leads to home runs. And it leads to a lot of line drives, hard-hit balls. That’s the name of the game, hitting the ball hard that leads to damage.”
For sure, there is no way Aquino can retain his break-neck speed toward Cooperstown. There are going to be bad days, bat weeks and bad months.
“That’s the challenge every player has to becoming great,” said Bell. “No matter who you are, how good you are or how talented you are, it is how you handle the down time. That determines how great you will be. Because it is going to happen, it is inevitable.”
Of his confidence, Aguino smiled and said, “I am happy and I believe in my mental abilities to perform at the top of my game every time I go out there to do the best that I can do.”
It took a long time for Aquino to arrive on the scene because he signed with the Reds when he was 16 and was raw material that took time to mold into what he is today.
“You trust God and work as hard as you can work and trust the abilities that I have to play this game,” he said.
Strangely, but not strangely to Aquino, when he walks to home plate his walk-up song that blares over the public address system is Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’
Aquino speaks English, but as a safety net he uses translator Julio Morillo for interviews, usually speaking softly with his head down. But when Frank Sinatra was mentioned, Aquino lifted his head, smiled broadly and said in English:
“I really like him. I love Frank Sinatra. The way he sings slow it made me think about what he is saying and helped me with my English.”.
SOME INTERESTING data about this season, as pointed out by MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince:
—Houston Astros pitchers lead baseball with 1,400 strikeouts and Astros hitters have struck out 1,000 times, the fewest in baseball. No team has ever done that.
—The Astros have not issued a single intentional walk this season, something that has never been done.
—When you see these numbers, has Raisel Iglesias really been so bad? Closers have only recorded saves 63.01 per cent of their opportunities. The combined earned run average of all bullpen pitchers this year is 4.50, highest since 4.58 in 2000.
Isn’t that an indication that managers should stick with their starters longer than they do these days? Bullpens are dismal.
—And about all those home runs. No. 8 hitters are on pace to hit 591 home runs. In 1971 clean-up hitters banged 590 home runs.
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ANALYTICS HAVE KILLED THE BULLPENS