Q. Last night the Astros got a lot of two-out hits. Now this is not uncommon, the Astros during the regular season led the league in OPS with two strikes. My question is, how is it that you can teach that, because the team has improved over the years? So what
Q. Last night the Astros got a lot of two-out hits. Now this is not uncommon, the Astros during the regular season led the league in OPS with two strikes. My question is, how is it that you can teach that, because the team has improved over the years? So what is it that your staff does, whether video or what can teach that to a lineup?
A.J. HINCH: Well, the personnel helps. I keep getting asked about '15 to '16 to '17, and how the improvement in the offensive production's come, and some of that is hitters getting better. That's Altuve, that's Gattis, that's Springer, Correa, obviously. The additions of Bregman, Gurriel, the additions of McCann, Reddick, these guys were pretty equipped to be good two-strike hitters, how they performed. For us I think it all starts with strike-zone judgment. If you can control the strike zone, you can make good decisions on what to swing at, that's the key. And it's really hard to do at this level. It's not that simple as just saying, Hey, swing at strikes and take the balls. That's cool when you're young and in little league and there's not as elite pitching. But for us we work really hard at pitch selection and recognizing the pitches that we want to swing at that we can do damage at. Some that have is swinging at strikes and taking the balls. Some of it is taking strikes. You have to take some really, really tough strikes that you could normally put in play, but you're not going to do anything with it. And that's competition between you and the pitcher. So, sure, we do some high speed pitching machines. We do some pitch recognition stuff. Alonzo Powell and Dave Hudgens, our two hitting coaches, are really good at individualizing what each guy does well within the zone, which guys chase, match that up with what the pitcher is going to do against us, and we come up with a pretty good offensive approach.
Q. What's pitch recognition stuff?
A.J. HINCH: Well, some stuff we do behind the scenes to be able to recognize the difference between a fastball and a breaking ball, breaking ball and a changeup. So that's about as far as I'll go with you.
Q. One of the themes surrounding Yuli this year is how he would hold up physically, and mentally as well, in a season that's much longer than he's used to. What can you say about that at this point in the year?
A.J. HINCH: I think last year did him a lot of good to get here. He was exhausted at the end of the season just the number of games that he had to play and the practice and the hours that we spend at the ballpark. So I think part of that helped last year that he was able to get a feel for what the schedule was like. He spent all offseason in south Florida, obviously got to know a lot of different people in the offseason programs and he came to spring training with a much better understanding of what we were going to ask out of him. I've been very conscious of days off for him and when to give him a break and it's hard because he's so good offensively. There's no matchup that's bad for him. He's really good and has come up with really big hits. So there's not an easy -- it's not a platoon situation. It's not a time where I ever say I don't want him to play. But we have gotten to know him over the last year and we know when is a good time to give him a day off or when he gets his work in behind the scenes in the weight room or cage. I think he's monitoring himself very well this year while learning a new position. So the bottom line is Yuli's a really good players. He's been an international superstar his whole life. This level didn't spook him. I think the scheduling and the rigors of the travel and the everyday part of our sport is what he had to adapt to, and the guys in the clubhouse have done a really good job helping him with his program.
Q. What are the dynamics of managing your bullpen in the playoffs when you have the off days, you have the potential starters who are in there now, and it just seems like there's a lot of different ways can you go?
A.J. HINCH: I think you just pitch everybody every day. I think, obviously, you have to be careful with many some of the relievers that aren't used to pitching the volumes that we ask them to do in the postseason. But for me, these guys show up ready to pitch and it doesn't matter whether -- like for them over there, Joe Kelly threw 20-plus pitches yesterday. He's going to be fine today. We expect him to be available on the other side. Same goes for our guys. They will rest up in November, if we're able to play all month, and guys will post every day. The challenges of trying to matchup perfectly, you got to determine who the best matchups are, and in a five- or seven-game series depending on what part of the playoffs you're in, you can run the same guy out there against the same guy five days in a row and it gets tough whether it's matching up Liriano and with Moreland yesterday, whether it's matching up Devenski with the guys he faced yesterday. There is some cat-and-mouse game, but at the end of the day put your guys in, they will take care of themselves physically. You monitor it, you talk to them, you try to win the game.
Q. How does having a psychology degree equip you for a being a major league manager? Would you recommend it for others who wish to follow in your footsteps?
A.J. HINCH: No, I think it's more about having a rough major league career might help me more relate to these guys that go through the mental anguish of the failure of our game. But, yeah, I don't know. I didn't plan that when I picked my major at Stanford. I didn't plan on that applying to being a manager. But my job is to get the most out of guys, and a lot of times my job is sort of the emotional psychological support that it takes to get the most out of these guys. So whatever I learned or whatever I've adapted to over the years in the game and through my schooling, it gets test every day, I tell you.
Q. Two part, one, talk about the contributions of Gattis, and, two, the way your lineup is, it could be anybody at any time to change the game.
A.J. HINCH: So we taught Gattis how to slide head first this year, that was a new addition to his game. He had triples a couple years ago, ahead first slide this year, he's like a complete player. It's great. He has been so good for us because of how his roles have changed over the last couple years. Getting him back behind the plate helped him last year, and he may catch in this series or move forward. But he's been very patient this year. Nobody was affected more by the personnel changes in the batting order than Evan Gattis. He had at-bats taken away from him, he spent a stint on the DL, but he's stayed the course. Over the last month or so has been overshadowed a little bit by some others, but he's come up really big. So yesterday the multiple base hits, he's a threat every single time to hit the ball out of the ballpark. I think everybody knows that. And it's guys like him at the bottom of the order with Marwin or Yuli today or is it going to be Brian McCann, is it going to be George Springer. There's not a guy on our lineup that can't carry us for a day. Yesterday was Altuve's day, today maybe somebody completely different. So that type of dynamic offense puts a lot of pressure on our opponent.
Q. I think it was Altuve yesterday talked about the 2015 and 2017 teams and some of the veterans guys that you have here that weren't here before, McCann, Beltran, some of those guys. What are some examples of ways they have impacted things behind the scenes and how do you make sure that they still have something to give on the field, that they're not just like inspirational?
A.J. HINCH: Sure, and I'm glad you said that because it's nice to talk about these guys in the spirit of what they're doing behind the scenes, whether it's sort of the type of teacher that Carlos Beltran is about the game is felt by all of our guys. McCann's got his antics behind the scenes and really has a lot of energy for our guys. Reddick being a little bit of sort of a tough guy behind the scenes and gets a little bit more confrontational with guys if he feels like he needs to spark someone. But we need them to be good players first. It's a great story when they're great people behind scenes and we need that, but we need their run production. We need Reddick's good at-bats just as much as we need his fire, or we needed McCann to control the game yesterday when Verlander in the fourth inning was under some duress. I mean that influence on the field is valuable. The behind-the-scenes stuff I've seen grow over the course of the year. We have asked them to be presence, veteran presence. Like what is presence? It's a consistency every single day that these guys show up and the rest of the team can feed off of their excitement, whether it's excitement, or feed off of their kind of emotional control. I've appreciated that every single one of the guys that we added this season wanted to blend in. They didn't want to dominate the room. The room was already full of guys that were doing something good. Altuve, Springer, Correa, Keuchel, McCullers, the guys that were here in 2015 and we were building towards something, these veteran guys came in and didn't try to change the world. They tried to raise the bar. And that's what veteran guys do that have been there, done that, and the guys inside took off. This is the closes group that I've ever been around and it's no surprise that with the personalities that we have that everybody has a place in that room.
Q. Obviously Altuve's day yesterday, I mean three home runs, but Bregman got it going for you. How nice has it been for you to see the maturation of such a young player just in the second half of the season, what he's been able to do now on this stage?
A.J. HINCH: Let's call it Altuve's year. This is Altuve's year. But for Bregman yesterday, it was no surprise to the guys that know him that he was going to be able to handle the moment. But he's been good a lot this year. He stepped up when we had injuries, and Correa was on the DL, and Springer was on the DL, Bregman became a little bit more central part of our order. So that was cool to see. He's a baseball rat, he loves the game. He's the type of guy that's like a magnet. Players are attracted to him. Whether it's poking fun at him which happens a lot behind those doors, or whether it's encouraging. He will post every single day and compete. To watch him mature from such a high draft pick, race through the minors, get up here last year, and then into this season where he's very much a primary player on our team, it's a good story. It's good to watch him kind of stand up tall amongst a group of veteran guys and maybe bigger names or more accomplished players and say, Hey, I can have a big moment too. And it's because of how he goes about it.
Q. Talk about veteran presence, is there anything more specific in regards to McCann's catching as a catcher, what makes a catcher better at calling a game than another catcher? And when it comes to McCann, how has he changed the pitching staff, whereas other catchers might not have done this or that, like specifics?
A.J. HINCH: Well, game calling begins with preparation. So yesterday when I get to the ballpark, or the day before on the off day, you get to the ballpark, and McCann's sitting in front of a monitor watching video, not only of our guys, of their guys, of similar around the league, and telling me about things that he has seen that the Red Sox played a particular series in September that had nothing to do with us that he's watching. So I love that preparation. He does that individually on his own. We combine that with the information that we provide him, our advance scouting that we provide him, and we come up with a game plan collectively to attack the hitter. Now, you got to stay calm in the moment. It's exciting for everybody. That crowd gets loud, you even listen to Justin Verlander yesterday about how nervous he was and about how much excitement there is, the one calm guy that has to be every pitch has to be the catcher. And you've never seen a championship caliber team that doesn't have some presence behind the plate. It just doesn't happen. You look back at the teams that have success in this league, they have a stable catcher. So Brian brings preparation, he brings a selflessness to how he goes about it. Yes, he contributed the base hit yesterday, I guarantee that he went home yesterday caring more about how he got Verlander through six, and then and a navigated the 7th 8th and 9th. And that approach I appreciate, obviously as an ex-catcher, but his teammates do, too, because it matters to him that we win first and that he is successful second.
Q. Keuchel's obviously been good everywhere, but what is it about this ballpark in particular that suits his style to take it to another level?
A.J. HINCH: I think he's just comfortable on the mound, whether it's the sight line, whether it's -- you know, he pitches with emotion, and he's very stoic on the mound. Behind the scenes, he has a little bit more outward expression, and I think he loves this mound. I think he loves the moment. He loves the moment. He loves pitching in front of 40-plus-thousand people that are going to be screaming for him. I think he's got to concentrate a little bit more keeping the ball on the ground here. Obviously it's a small ballpark and it can play to some shorter home runs. So whether he changes his game plan, he just really focuses on getting on top of the ball and sinking the ball a little bit, getting the ball on the ground. But he feeds off energy. There's emotion that in this ballpark, especially today, he's going to enjoy. And that builds. To be honest, when you get more games like this that happen, who wouldn't be confident coming out on this mound in this ballpark for this team and the way he's pitched.