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Reds rookie Aquino sets MLB mark with HR No. 8

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WASHINGTON — The Punisher has punished again.

Cincinnati Reds rookie Aristides Aquino went deep against the Washington Nationals on Monday night, making him the first player in MLB history to hit eight home runs in his first 12 career games.

Aquino’s latest blast came was a mammoth solo shot against Nats reliever Tanner Rainey. With two outs in the top of the eighth inning of Cincy’s 7-6 loss, the 25-year old Dominican native crushed a 98 mile-an-hour fastball from Rainey and deposited it over the fence in right-center field, 425 feet away.

Nicknamed “The Punisher” by his brother when he was growing up, Aquino — who appeared in one game last season — has been pulverizing baseballs since getting called up on August 1. In 11 games since his promotion, the 6-foot 4-inch, 220-pound slugger is hitting .429 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs.

All eight of his roundtrippers have come in the Reds’ last nine games, and he’s gone yard seven times in his last six contests, a torrid streak that helped him earn National League Player of the Week honors earlier on Monday.

Prior to getting called up, Aquino was hitting .299 with 28 homers and 53 RBI’s in 78 games with Triple A Louisville.

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Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo unsure of future after ’20, ‘still love this game’

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SURPRISE, Ariz. — Shin-Soo Choo wants to enjoy baseball even more this season, all of those times in the clubhouse and on the field while still at the top of the Texas Rangers lineup.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the year,” said Choo, the 37-year-old leadoff hitter going into the final season of his $130 million, seven-year contract.

Choo has genuine confidence that he can play at a high level for another couple of years, or more, after 2020.

There is just no way to know if he will be re-signed by the Rangers, maybe go to another team or decide it’s time to be at home full-time with his wife and three growing children. Those are all questions he said are too early to consider.

“I still love this game,” Choo said. “I’m still lucky to play major league level, and then it’s very special, major league uniform, wearing my number on it, my name on it on the back. That’s very special, very lucky. I still feel that way, so we’ll see.”

His oldest kid is a 14-year-old son who is a high school freshman playing baseball and football. Choo flew home to Texas last weekend to watch one of his baseball games.

“I really want to see him play so bad sometimes,” Choo said. “Just think about myself, I’ll play five, 10 more years.”

A first-time All-Star in 2018, Choo followed that up by hitting .265 with a career-high 24 home runs and a .371 on-base percentage last season.

“He’s the most professional player, person,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “I truly value the person and what he can do. And, you know, I still think there’s a lot left physically just based on the way he prepares himself, the shape that he keeps himself in.”

Choo will be the highest-paid Rangers player this season, at $21 million for the final year of his back-loaded deal. The only longer-tenured Texas player is 31-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is entering his 12th season.

Texas signed Choo as a free agent the same offseason it acquired Prince Fielder in a trade from Detroit, when the All-Star slugger had seven seasons left on a nine-year contract. Fielder was forced to retire midway through the 2016 season, at age 32, after a second neck surgery over a three-year period.

Choo, who turns 38 in mid-July, was coming off a career-high .423 on-base percentage during his only season with the Cincinnati Reds when he got to Texas. He is still having productive seasons for the Rangers.

Corey Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner known for his own hard work ethic and attention to detail, made his major league debut in 2011 with Cleveland when Choo was with the Indians.

“When I first got called up, you noticed right away the way he goes about his business. So I tried to try to pay attention to that a lot,” said Kluber, who was traded from Cleveland to Texas during the offseason. “It definitely impact on me when I was younger.”

Choo has averaged 149 games over the past three seasons, since being limited to 48 games in 2016 because of four stints on the disabled list for different injuries each time.

He has had at least 20 homers and 75 walks in each of the past three seasons, becoming only the third Rangers player to do that. The others were Rafael Palmeiro’s record five in a row (1999-2003), and Alex Rodriguez from 2001-03. Palmeiro and Adrian Beltre are the only other Texas players with at least 24 homers in a season at age 36 or older.

Over those three seasons combined, Choo is fifth among all American League players in games played (446), walks (247), hit by pitch (35) and times on base (721).

“I think he’s gotten smarter. His ability to control the strike zone and get on base,” Woodward said. “Pitch one, he is the most prepared player I’ve seen. He doesn’t take one day for granted. He’s there. He’s the earliest there every day. He’ll talk about the game all the time.”

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Orioles claim INF Andrew Velazquez off waivers from Cleveland

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SARASOTA, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles claimed infielder Andrew Velazquez on waivers from the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.

Velazquez, a 25-year-old from the Bronx, has hit .152 in 28 games with Tampa Bay and Cleveland and joins a crowded competion for an infield spot with Baltimore. Last season, he hit .087 (2 for 23) in 15 games with the Rays and Indians.

He’s played six positions in the major leagues.

To make room for Velazquez on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated infielder Richard Urena, who had been claimed on waivers from Toronto on January 10, for assignment.

Baltimore has 68 players on its spring training roster.

NOTE: 1B Chris Davis was sent home on Wednesday due to illness.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports



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Rob Manfred has an option

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Now even LeBron James has weighed in on the Astros scandal, with the King calling on commissioner Rob Manfred to listen to aggrieved, angry players like Mike Trout, Aaron Judge and Justin Turner, and do something more than what he has done.

Manfred’s options are limited by the immunity granted to players during the sign-stealing investigation, but more because of the inherent limitations of operating under a collective bargaining agreement. As some opposing players have noted, taking away the Astros’ 2017 World Series title is impractical, maybe even a little silly; the games were played, they were won and lost, and you can’t go back in a time machine and take away the Astros’ competitive advantage. And it’s possible that if Manfred tried to vacate the title, he would run afoul of the MLB Players Association, which could legally challenge the premise that he has the power to unilaterally take away a championship.

But there’s another option through which the collective anger we have seen over the past three months could coalesce: Manfred could take the step of wielding a formal and final and unprecedented resolution of censure of the 2017 Houston Astros.

He could ask the owners for their backing and then forward the final resolution to the members of the players’ association, giving the Astros’ frustrated brethren an opportunity to vote their disapproval. A sportwide condemnation would be a permanent stain of ignominy.

Manfred could say: As I’ve had more time to process the fallout from what the Astros did in 2017, and as I’ve heard from fans and players throughout the sport, I believe more action is warranted, beyond the initial penalties handed down Jan. 13. For repeatedly cheating against its opponents throughout the regular season and postseason, as established in the Major League Baseball’s investigation, the 2017 Houston Astros are hereby censured, a designation to be forever noted in baseball’s official record book.

If Manfred took these steps, he would find support within the industry, given the apparent fury over the Astros’ handling of the aftermath — much of it lacking remorse or contrition, or even an acknowledgement that their sign-stealing system was potentially difference-making. “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game,” Astros owner Jim Crane said last week, words that ricocheted around the game.

“This is really bad for baseball,” a senior official said. “Jim has handled this atrociously. They have not accepted responsibility, and acted like, ‘This is no big deal, everybody was doing it,’ when it’s apparent that they had an advantage. They just refuse to take responsibility, and now is the time for the other teams to act.”

A censure might feel soft initially, without the teeth of a suspension or the revocation of riches. But the weight of history would prevail. Moving forward, references to the ’17 Astros would inevitably contain the qualifier that the group was censured for cheating by peers.

Look, even if Manfred doesn’t take any more action, the legacy of the players on that team is forever diminished. It’s already apparent they will be remembered as cheaters to most in the court of public opinion, and in the eyes of many of their peers — cheaters who wielded an illicit competitive advantage. But for all of the majesty implied in the title of commissioner, Manfred has almost no leeway to discipline the players, even after declaring in his findings that the Astros’ scheme was player-driven. Judge, Trout, Cody Bellinger and others can confirm that for themselves with union chief Tony Clark, as the players’ association begins its annual spring training get-togethers.

Had Manfred refused to grant immunity to the Houston players as Major League Baseball dove into its investigation, then the union would’ve interceded and protected players in legal peril — and protecting members is exactly what any union should do. Many or all of the players would’ve refused to answer questions, and then Manfred would’ve run into the same types of problems that George Mitchell did in his laughable investigation of the steroid era. No subpoena power, no absolute proof that Player X benefited from the sign stealing. MLB investigators probably would’ve gotten a lot of, “I don’t recall.” Or, “I didn’t hear the trash can banging.” Manfred is right in this regard: At least the core of the truth is exposed.

But Manfred has the power to go one step further and distinguish that Houston championship from all others in baseball history.

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As Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle closed on Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, commissioner Ford Frick announced that unless a player reached at least 60 home runs in 154 games — the parameters under which Ruth played in 1927 — there should be some special designation in the record books, separating the accomplishments. Frick never formally issued an edict, and eventually that suggestion faded in history; Maris was recognized as the record holder until Mark McGwire passed that mark in 1998. But Frick’s mere suggestion served to unfairly diminish Maris’ accomplishment in the years that followed.

So do not underestimate the long-term impact of a formal censure, because no matter what Jim Crane or anyone else argues about the legitimacy of the ’17 championship, a censure introduced by Manfred and seconded by the players would stand as the final word.

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