MILWAUKEE – As teammates stretched and played catch in left field before Saturday’s game at American Family Field, Jose Barrero was summoned for early work with hitting coach Alan Zinter at home plate.
For about 30 minutes, it was one-on-one instruction for Barrero, who was called up from Triple-A to be the Cincinnati Reds’ everyday shortstop for the final two months of the season.
Barrero took a lot of swings with Zinter. He hits off a tee. He swung at underhand tosses with Zinter protected by an L-screen 15 feet away. He sprayed balls to all parts of the field. The goal was shortening his swing and improving his posture, so he could recognize pitches better.
In the top of the fourth inning, Barrero was rewarded with his first career homer. Two innings later, he made it two career homers as he lifted the Reds to a 7-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Batting practice isn’t everything, but he definitely took what he was working on into the game,” Reds Manager David Bell said. “Usually, it doesn’t work like that. Usually, it’s kind of a delayed reaction. He took it right into the game. It speaks a lot to the kind of athlete he is.”
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Barrero became the second batter in Reds history to hit his first two career homers in the same game, joining Harry Steinfeldt, who did it on July 31, 1900 at Boston, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
About five minutes after the game, Barrero walked outside the visitor’s clubhouse and met a young Brewers fan, Charlie. He traded a signed bat for his first home run ball, which he clutched as he made a FaceTime call with family afterward.
“I’d like to dedicate it to my mom,” said Barrero, who changed his surname from Garcia last year to honor his late mother, Tania. “I’m going to give it to my brother, who has been with me side to side through all of this. It’s going to go with him.”
For better or for worse, the development of young players will be the most important part of Reds’ season following the trade deadline. The Reds need to give the 24-year-old Barrero time to adjust to Major League pitching and find out whether he’s their shortstop of the future.
One pitch before Barrero’s first homer, he missed a potential double by a couple of feet. Brewers lefty Aaron Ashby didn’t take advantage, leaving a 94-mph fastball over the middle of the plate and Barrero pummeled a 408-footer past the center field wall.
“Hopefully something clicked for him,” Bell said, “because it really, truly, is just a matter of time.”
Barrero, homering for the first time in 125 career Major League at-bats, broke into a smile as he approached third-base coach JR House and his smile widened as he greeted baserunner Albert Almora Jr. at home plate.
After he was congratulated in the dugout, receiving a hug from Almora and taps on the helmet by Kyle Farmer, Barrero made a heart with his hands and said something as he looked to the sky, a dedication to his mom.
“It’s my first home run, so I was rounding the bases and I just felt all the emotions come through,” Barrero said through interpreter Jorge Merlos. “It felt amazing.”
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The Reds have seen star potential from Barrero for years. He was called up at the end of the 2020 season and made the playoff roster despite never playing above A-ball in the minor leagues. Returning to the minors in 2021, he earned the organization’s minor league player of the year.
A hamate injury, which required surgery, cost Barrero a chance to earn a spot on the Reds’ Opening Day roster this year. He didn’t hit well at Triple-A Louisville after he returned, but the Reds will work closely with him at the big-league level.
“He hits the ball tremendously hard,” Zinter said. “He squares it up. He’s got quick twitch in him. He’s just got the ability to drive baseball to all parts of the field, so it’s very exciting. That early spring training a couple of years ago when he went off that was my first look at him. It was like, ‘wow, there is something in there.'”
Leading off the sixth inning, Barrero was fed an 88-mph sinker in a 2-0 count from Brewers reliever Hoby Milner. Barrero muscled it over the left-field wall, a 389-foot solo homer.
It was a special day for Barrero, who had only one game in the minor leagues when he homered twice. Aristides Aquino, another player given a bigger role after the trade deadline, reached base twice and threw out a runner at the plate for the fifth time this season.
“You see that genuine smile and the eyes glistening a little bit with excitement,” Zinter said. “Then he had a little bit more swagger on that next AB. His chest puffed out a little bit, so it’s a good thing. We’ll keep going.”