Q. How are you feeling this morning? A little bit like the first day of school?A.J. HINCH: No, we're ready. I think we have had to talk about the playoff chase for many months. We have had a big lead for many months, I think we need to get to
Q. How are you feeling this morning? A little bit like the first day of school?
A.J. HINCH: No, we're ready. I think we have had to talk about the playoff chase for many months. We have had a big lead for many months, I think we need to get to the baseball. Our guys are ready. They're excited. It's nice to open up at home. We earned that right to face a really good opponent. So where else would you want to be other than Minute Made facing Chris Sale with Justin Verlander on the mound with our team ready to play.
Q. What do you expect from Sale, who led the league in strikeouts. You guys don't strikeout a lot. Just an interesting dynamic in Game 1. What are the challenges of your lineup just to kind of do your thing and not fall into his trap?
A.J. HINCH: You got to stay in the strike zone against him. He's really tough. The league will tell you that no matter who you talk to. They probably had their fair share of trouble with facing Chris Sale. So it is a challenge to stay in the strike zone. He's got an awkward angle that's unique. It's hard to pick up. He's got multiple pitches that get swing and misses. He's pretty fierce competitor. He's the top of a rotation for a reason and one of the most dynamic left-handed starters you can imagine in baseball. So that sets up for a big challenge for us. I think you got to compete from pitch one. You don't know when the mistake's coming. There's mistakes in there for every pitcher and if he doesn't make too many of them, you better maximize the ones that he does. But staying inside the strike zone, trying to avoid the chase is going to be key, and at the same time I don't think he's going to limp his way into the alley. I think he's going to come pretty ready. He's rested. He's got some dynamic pitches, so it's going to be a great competition.
Q. In your experience do you think making a first postseason start makes a difference at all?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, I hope it makes him nervous as can be and he's a mess. That's what I hope.
I don't know. I think that the adrenaline there will be something to it, whether he can harness it. But these guys that are elite, these guys that are special, they find a way to settle in and be themselves. If it does and it impacts him, then it should be to our advantage, but I don't think you can go in hoping for him to be scared or hoping for him to be nervous. He's Chris Sale. He knows his stuff is good. He's going to attack us. We have got a good lineup against him though. I want to give him credit for being Chris Sale. I don't want to give him credit for being able to get through our lineup very easily, so we're going to make it tough on him.
Q. Looking briefly head to Game 2, when does Keuchel's experience playing defense? What has that contributed to his success and how do you coach defense to a pitcher?
A.J. HINCH: He's a very gifted pitcher in a lot of different ways. And Dallas takes pride in a couple things the most. Number one is execution of his game plan. He's meticulous in trying to make pitches where he wants to and he's very hard on himself when he misses by a fraction. So also with that, I think he knows he can get some extra outs with his glove. He can get to more balls. We don't talk about range with pitchers very often, but he's got tremendous range. It allows us to play our infielders back a little bit because he can cover the bunt. We can play our gaps in the middle because Dallas can handle some balls back at him. He lands so balanced when he makes his delivery, he's able to be athletic enough on the mound. We hit a lot of balls back to him. We do a lot of PFP stuff. The pitchers that can handle their position, field their position, cover first base, which I know sounds very simple at this level. The guys that cannot give away any outs by being able to handle the ball. We have seen it in other games when they can't handle the ball, it's very difficult for them. Dallas is elite. That's why he's a Golden Glover.
Q. Considering Verlander and Keuchel don't give up a lot of stolen bases, how far will that go to help neutralize their running game?
A.J. HINCH: The base running's going to be key in this series I think on both sides because we're playing in two small ballparks, or at least most of the park is small here. Most of the park at Fenway is small. So it's not about base stealing as much as it is base running. I think Verlander and Keuchel both do a great job of controlling the running game on the base stealing part of it. I think the next phase of that is going to be controlling 90 feet when the ball's in play. How aggressive can you be when you're facing elite pitching and giving outs on the bases away or at least taking too many risk risks on the bases. So it's a fine line, and I think controlling stolen bases is only a small part of it. The outfielders are going to play a key role the series on both sides on the first to third because when you get opportunities to put pressure on your opponent by taking an extra 90 feet, it's a lot in the playoffs. And they're one of the better base-running teams because they don't give in, they don't concede just taking the next base. They're looking for the next one. We saw that firsthand last week. They're very good at it. So our outfielders, I think of it more as an outfield/infield awareness competition than I do necessarily even controlling the stolen base. Stolen base will be controlled by not letting their base Steelers on or by being quick to the plate.
Q. In your month or so around Verlander, what have you known about and what have you discovered about him that maybe you didn't know before, both on the field and otherwise?
A.J. HINCH: I didn't know him at all. I never met him other than competing across the way, a handshake here or there. He's a continuous learner, and I think that was interesting for me to learn about him. First thing is how does he improve his changeup, how do we play defense, what advantages can he take. Whether he works with players on about improving his sign sequencing from him to the catcher or to game planning with Strommy and our advance team. He doesn't come across as knowing it all. After 10, 12, 13 years, you would expect him to have this program in place where it's the way he does it. But he doesn't. He tweaks his every move to try to get better. That's been a nice thing to learn about him. I think the second part is he just wants to be one of the guys. He didn't come in making too many demands and trying to be the center of attention. He wanted to blend in. In this clubhouse, it was nice to see someone with such a big personality, so many accolades, so much positive performances in this game, he came in and just wanted to be one of the guys. And that worked perfectly with this group.
Q. Any difficult decisions on coming up with a final roster McHugh left off. Any other tough choices that came down to the wire for you?
A.J. HINCH: Well, the pitching, the biggest decision of 11 pitchers versus 12 in a five-game series and that decision impacted Tyler White as the extra position player that we went. We have two days off if we go five games in this series. Having the extra length pitcher in Collin McHugh didn't seem like it was as good an advantage as having the extra position player that can move around the field and the right-handed bat in Tyler White. What the roles are going to be is going to be another tough decision that moves forward. I look on the card today and we really have two starters listed. We have Verlander who is pitching and Keuchel who is pitching tomorrow. We're not going to worry about Game 3 and Game 4 until we have to. So that leaves a lot, a deep bullpen that I could use virtually any pitcher that's there. Peacock, McCullers, Morton, and then our primary bullpen. So I think in some ways that decision within that group was even tougher. It was going to be even tougher than necessarily setting the roster. The roster, the tough conversation with Tyler Clippard, who has pitched in the World Series; tough conversation with Tony Sipp, who's been here a number of years and has started to turn the corner, getting better; tough conversation with Mike Fiers, who is as tough as he was at the end of the year, tough a season as he's had at the end of the year, in the middle part of this year, he was a key contributor with us, stabilizing our rotation when most of them were on the D L. So it's never easy to leave veterans off the roster and now that we have the 25-man set that we're not going to change, we have to decide how to deploy our best guys.
Q. When you guys got Justin, you were already heading for the playoffs, everybody knew that. What kind of sense have you gotten from him about how important this stage is to him? He's obviously done a lot in his career, but never won the World Series. How important is this start, this opportunity?
A.J. HINCH: I don't know about this start in particular, but just the decision to become a Houston Astros, he came because he wants to win. He made that perfectly clear to me on the phone the night we traded for him, and he made it perfectly clear when he got here, he wants to win. He believes that he can win here. I think that message is loud and clear to me, it's loud and clear to his teammates, that he's about winning. So this stage, he loves this stage. What player wouldn't, and especially with someone who has experienced it before, and bigger starts than this. This is big start for him and a big start for our team, but he's also pitched in the World Series. He's pitched on higher stages than even what we're providing for him here. So he's into it. He loves being here. He loves his teammates. He loves the vibe that we have on our team. I would bet that he loves being center stage Game 1 of this series on a home start in front of the fans that are excited to have him here.
Q. Altuve, in Baseball America says they named him MLB Player of the Year, first of many of these awards going to be coming in. Some thoughts about that?
A.J. HINCH: He might need to build a new trophy case for a some of these awards that are coming in, and he deserves every bit of the attention that he gets around the league and the awards that are going to keep coming to him. But the best part of him is, and he mentioned this to our group, we had in our advance meeting when we were preparing for the Red Sox, it's about winning for him. He wants to win. These awards are great, the batting titles are great, the potential MVP is great, and I think it will mean even more if he can do it on a championship team. That mindset, that approach is so cool to have when you're the manager and you have one of your best players be one of your best examples, that's a dream come true.