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Winter Meetings interview with A.J. Hinch

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Q. What will be would be an ideal outcome for you as far as your bullpen to do this off-season, to get your bullpen where you want it to be?

A.J. HINCH: I think the perfect scenario is to enter healthy. I think our guys, we'll bounce back from any perceived either lack of usage or not fulfilling, not having the roles in the postseason. But obviously I think we're going to address a couple of our needs, mostly in the pitching side. When that happens, where that happens will be determined. But we were going to consistently try to throw a good reliever or a good starter out there every day. That's what's gotten us successful, it will continue it to keep us successful, and the returning guys can all fill in very admirably.

Q. What will be would be an ideal outcome for you as far as your bullpen to do this off-season, to get your bullpen where you want it to be?

A.J. HINCH: I think the perfect scenario is to enter healthy. I think our guys, we'll bounce back from any perceived either lack of usage or not fulfilling, not having the roles in the postseason. But obviously I think we're going to address a couple of our needs, mostly in the pitching side. When that happens, where that happens will be determined. But we were going to consistently try to throw a good reliever or a good starter out there every day. That's what's gotten us successful, it will continue it to keep us successful, and the returning guys can all fill in very admirably.

Q. Have you spoken to Ken Giles this off-season, where do you think he's at and kind of where does he stand going into it?

A.J. HINCH: Ken Giles will be fine. I think in our sport we can get a little bit narrow-minded when it comes to maybe what a guy's recently done and say that's going to automatically define him, probably both good or bad. And the longer look at Ken Giles, he's been a very effective reliever. He's a good closer. He had a rough stretch on the national stage in a front of a large audience, but it doesn't make him any less equipped to be an elite closer. I think his stuff is top notch across the board. I think it was frustrating for him in the World Series to not be delivering the outs that he delivered during the season, but emotionally, physically we expect him to be fine. I expect him to be elite again.

Q. So with Stanton coming over to the American League, Otani in the division, it's never easy seems like with the competition, it seems like it's rising. But what do you expect next year as far as just the American League seems like it's going to be tough?

A.J. HINCH: We'll see Otani a little bit more than we'll see Stanton, but look, I think that our league and our division has been very strong. We have had the best player in baseball in our division. You can argue who that is but we have had some pretty good ones on our team, and I think our guys are up for the challenge. Our league is never easy. The DH is hard to deal with, it's hard to navigate with. The big markets that can spend the money are really hard to deal with. But we won't be afraid.

Q. You mentioned using the DH, how do you envision that?

A.J. HINCH: Right now as the roster is constructed, I think Evan Gattis will get the most at-bats in the DH spot, which is very similar to how we had it in 2015 and 2016, and he's put up some really good numbers. And if it stays the way it is now, I could see me spreading it around. Getting Altuve a few days at DH, Springer, Yuli a few days, maybe even introduce the DH to Correa, just to try to alleviate some of the time on their feet that they have to spend when they're playing on both sides of the ball.

So I'll spread it out enough but Evan Gattis is probably the beneficiary of the way the roster is right now.

Q. Is doing things like that to get your core guys off their feet more important after how deep you guys played?

A.J. HINCH: I think it's more important for Marwin Gonzales. I think there's a little bit of strategy that goes into wanting to open up playing time for other guys on your bench. Our guys he played left field in every game of the World Series, and it's his least comfortable or least experienced position.

So I do think it will help and in any season you go into a season wanting to be very smart and proactive in resting your guys, the DH is kind of the cheating way to do it. You don't have to take them completely out of the lineup, but you can limit some of their physical requirements.

Q. How do you envision left field as it stands now as far as playing time?

A.J. HINCH: I think there's a great competition that could come out of the spring. Obviously Marwin has done a great job. We would like to move a him around the field and play a little bit more all around the field as opposed to primarily left field. We'll have Derek Fisher camp back, Jake Marisnick is healthy again, he'll come back and factor into the outfield, so I can reconfigure. We have got some guys we're going to open up left field. You look at Colin Moran, Tyler White, Tony Kemp, guys that have performed in Triple-A that haven't quite made the jump to an everyday Big Leaguer.

So I think that some combination of that group will get the primary at-bats, but like it has the last couple seasons I think we'll spread it around.

Q. Will Marisnick play some left?

A.J. HINCH: Maybe. I'm going to try it in spring. Might as well.

Q. Is there one biggest, as you go forward as far as repeating, one biggest challenge, obviously very hard to do, talk about the competition getting stiffer, but as far as your end what do you think?

A.J. HINCH: I think health is key. Obviously performance is huge and you got to play really well for a long period of time to win, to win games, but being healthy at the right time and if you're going to have some injuries. We absorbed injuries the way we did it wasn't more than one guy at a time. It was, yes, Keuchel, yes McCullers, Correa, Springer, McCann, Reddick all guys spent time on the DL. But we were able to avoid kind of the catastrophic two or three-week stretch where two or three or four of them were on the DL at the same time.

So I think that in itself is the big challenge of any season, more so that since we played the most games than anybody in baseball other than the Dodgers.

Q. Physically players today are probably superior than they have ever been. Do you think that's at all true mentally with all the information available or do they really understand the game no better than the past?

A.J. HINCH: Some of them. I don't think information helps every player. I think that you have to -- I think certain information can help every player but not everybody can absorb some of the thesis work that comes out of these research projects. So I think that we have more information on our fingertips. I think players are more open to absorbing information. I would caution saying they're smarter, I think just exposed to more.

I think there is some areas of the game where dumbing it down is probably a strength, and not that the old-school players or the players of yesteryear were better at that. That was all they were really exposed to, but I think the key in the competitive advantage as a manager or organization is to find what information each player can handle and maximize it. Some guys that can handle everything you need to give them everything. Some can only handle a little piece, then give them a little piece. Then knowing your own players and what they can absorb to make them good players is pretty key, and I've learned that in my time as an Astro because we pride ourselves in having the most information, but I'm not going to go through every player but they're not all the same at how they use it, how they utilize it and how they kind of maximize the competitiveness with it.

Q. What was Alex Cora's role about information dissemination?

A.J. HINCH: He was a great liaison to the players. I think first off I think he was learning on the fly as well. I think that was one of the big key advancements for him coming out of his transition from being a non-player to a coach. But he utilized a lot of information, and he was learning it and was transforming it to the language that the players can understand. I think that type of liaison is really hard to find, someone who is hungry and thirsty for more information, somebody who evolves and then somebody who can relate to players, but he was very big in for us trying to especially on the base-running side trying to be a more complete team.

Q. There was a report of an incident that happened involving Alex and the Verlander great trade. Can you talk about how it sounds like a mistakes were made, can you talk about how he handled that how that was handled?

A.J. HINCH: I knew that was going to come up and I think that I think you guys would be amazed. If we allowed you to have all the information that happens behind the scenes, on a team, I think you would be amazed at how much that goes on first off. Number two, I never really considered it a huge issue. I think we have brotherly squabbles or you have disagreements or you have moments of high stress. It's going to boil over from time to time. I thought he handled himself well, I thought he handled the responsibilities that I needed as a manager and I was his biggest advocate and biggest supporter moving forward, because I believe in him. Obviously as people find out certain things or they question certain things, it didn't take away from our season and it certainly didn't take away from our relationship.

Q. Relating to Otani question, but how do you see him as a pitcher and as a hitter?

A.J. HINCH: Well, I don't know yet. I think that's going to be the biggest adjustment for us is once he's seen in our league, we'll have to make certain adjustments. From video I know he's very powerful as a pitcher and as a hitter. But I haven't seen him in person, and I haven't seen him compete against the highest level. We'll try to gather as much information as we can when we see him in Spring Training from scouting and video and then ultimately when we face him.

But I think the great unknown is one of his strengths when he first comes over here and I've seen that with Darvish and Matsuzaka, seen it with Maeda, Tanaka, there's going to be a lot of firsts for him and there's also going to be a lot of firsts for players in the league, whether they're facing him as a hitter or pitcher. We're going to have to make adjustments quickly, like you would any rookies.

Q. Keuchel and McCullers dealt with injuries two years in a row, what's the concern level going forward that you could get 30 starts out of them?

A.J. HINCH: It's always a concern for every player. I think those guys have battled through their individual issues. I think the more I've seen our team have some injury issues but then break down it makes me love our training staff. Jeremiah Randall does a great job of getting them back on the field, and also the resolve of our players. We had to battle through a lot more injuries than we usually talk about.

But Dallas and Lance were the biggest question going into last season because they were injured to end the previous season. This year they were healthy finishing the season. So I'm not as concerned, but I want our best guys to be healthy and they're two of our best.

Q. McCann, how do you view the backup catcher responsibilities?

A.J. HINCH: I think there's a question on whether we would carry three. That will be determined in the spring. Max Stassi returns, he's out of options. Tim Federowicz, we just signed to a minor league deal, and then Evan Gattis also returns. So whether we carry two or three. We have guys in the DH role or part of the catching group, we have got to determine where the last spot it is as a position player, and I can see that coming out of Stass and Federowicz, or I can could see it coming out of the group that I mentioned earlier that also will vie for some playing time. But we'll pay close attention to the workload for McCann, Gattis and any other catcher that we have.

Q. The chain of custody of information like you've got advanced scouts, you got our own coaches who look at video so where does (inaudible)?

A.J. HINCH: We used a lot of the time -- Cintron was the translator was a sort of liaison on the coaching staff to the information and he spent a lot of time learning the nuances behind the scenes of what was going on. He's terrific with some of the stuff with the pitching, he's terrific with the base-running, he's going to be very good for the infielders. And he had a little tutorial in his initial job with the Astros that makes the transition to first base very easy.

He developed relationships with our players, which is key and I trust him. He filled in for everything. When Alex Cora when they had twins he was the interim bench coach. When Gary Pettis left for a day or two, he filled in on the bases. He was our assistant hitting coach for awhile. So the learning that he did behind the scenes in his previous job will help him in the in his current job.

Q. When it comes to the regular season Springer, what's the next gear the next level that he could take his game on. We saw it in the World Series after Game 1 but kind of streaky?

A.J. HINCH: He can do it all. It's a long season, you're going to have good streaks and bad streaks but he can really do it all. I think we saw that come out in the World Series, where it's hard facing Clayton Kershaw and he responded very well in Game 2 through 7, and became the MVP. So there's no challenge that George won't tackle. There's nothing he can't do in the game. I think we moved him to centerfield, he made that adjustment fine. I'm always harping on our guys to be better baserunners. I can mark that across the board, it's another area of improvement for us, but obviously George can take a step forward in a couple different areas, but he's already an elite player. I think he can get even better.

Q. I don't know what players notice but when were you a player, the idea of veterans in the clubhouse and obviously worked out very well, obviously a conscious decision, do you remember at any point being a player knowing that you better have that one or two in that room?

A.J. HINCH: Yeah, I think the first time I probably respected it the most was when I watched Jim Thome in Philadelphia, how he influenced the room and a lot of times people will talk about veterans being key at moments of crisis, right. So we get swept by the Yankees in three games and in Game 5 Beltran did stand up, McCann stood up and talked, Josh Reddick was very influential. Luke Gregerson was very influential. That was great but there's so many times in the season, even in good times, where that veteran is the stable force in the clubhouse and I appreciate that on every team, I appreciate it even more so on a championship-caliber team that has these distractions and has these expectations and has different influences that are tough for younger players to deal with.

Most notably when you have great players like Correa and Altuve and Springer, they got to find ways to get better and who better to deliver that message than a veteran who's been there, done that.

Q. As your roster stands today is Brad Peacock a starter or reliever?

A.J. HINCH: He's one of them. He's on our team. He doesn't have to worry about coming to Spring Training as a maybe. Last year he did. So there's a lot of different roles he can fill. So I think that's a big question that's going to shaped by whether we do anything in the winter to add pitching or do we stay healthy, I feel like I can do anything, anything with him from start him in one of the first five games to any number of roles in the bullpen he'll be really good.

Q. Aaron Boone directly credited you. What was that relationship like? Do you have a little coaching advice?

A.J. HINCH: I'm so proud of Aaron Boone to first off to get that big of a job, that soon is really incredible. And we developed a relationship years ago, when I played with him on Team USA, we were teenagers. And throughout the years, through the Pac-10, through Major League Baseball, have always had a lot of respect for him and his family. And then as he started to get the itch to get back on the field, we started talking little bit more directly about what it was like, and I've had a little bit of good I've had a little bit of bad. So I felt like I could share some things with him through the interview process, we talked a number of times, and then he went underground when Cash gave him the job.

So it's nice to see players and peers and guys that I have relationships with get jobs like these, because they're hard to get, they're harder to keep. He's well equipped to be really good in this job.

Q. Was there anything after he got the job that he followed up and thanked you and said that piece of information you gave me proved to be vital?

A.J. HINCH: I think the next form of communication was me complaining about him getting Stanton. That was a big problem. He's getting spoiled really early in his career, so I did give him a hard time about that. But no, he did thank me and sent some kind words, and I'll try to spend some time with him tomorrow at the manager luncheon.

Q. You played until November 1st and the season starts earlier. Does that (inaudible)?

A.J. HINCH: Maybe they're usage at the beginning. We have got to train and get ourselves ready to play. Again you can't just press the "go" button. So maybe a little bit of how much I lean on these guys. The good thing for us is other than Verlander on our pitching staff, those guys are broken seasons and they're not coming off a career high. Most of the time when you play until November, I would assume guys are reaching their career highs in innings. Keuchel, McCullers, McHugh, Morton, all the way down to Musgrove and some of the relievers, are all coming in relatively controlled innings, and so I don't feel like I'll have to have too many governors on them.

Q. With regards to that, Verlander was about 205 innings last year, the highest he's ever been. Is that about that as far as you would want to push a starting pitcher?

A.J. HINCH: Nowadays we try to keep our pitching staff as balanced as we can. Obviously the starters are always going to get the majority of the innings, and if you stay healthy you can't help it. Some of the elite guys are going to pitch a lot of innings and they deserve to. Especially a guy like Verlander, who loves to be on a routine, loves to pitch every five days. He gets a day off and he's lobbying to pitch on his regular day. That's in his mind that's what happened. We've got to be smart with him and our other pitchers, but I think, I think it's mentally more than anything the grind of a seven-month season has been realized for our guys, and I think they appreciate what it takes to get to the finish line, but I think there's only so much, so many innings you're going to take away from a guy like Verlander. He's built to absorb as much as he can get.

Q. I'm from Atlanta so I saw Charlie when he first came up and this version of him is a very nice way and I'm sure is very you know recognizable. We talk about ages now we seem to want to say that if you don't have it at 22, 23, 24, is that feeling even batter as a manager?

A.J. HINCH: One of the best parts of the World Series was watching our players respond to Charlie getting the last out of the World Series, he's a unique guy and develops great relationships with our guys. People were rooting for him and to see him, his journey through some good health, some bad health, some good performance, some bad performance and he's standing out there to get the 27th out of the World Series, it's hard not to root for him. I think it's a good lesson for me or for anybody in the game that as much as we want these guys to be perfect the minute they get to the Big Leagues or the minute they get into their careers, let's let some guys learn and grow and bounce back from some adversity and not define what they are until the completion of their career and their journey. Charlie Morton being a key example.

Q. Are there any so called World Series world champion hangover things?

A.J. HINCH: We'll see. I don't know. We're still smiling and still celebrating, but I'm going to be the guy that has to tell these guys to flip the script and get on to 2018. We'll do that. Our guys are starting to work out, I've met with a number of our local guys in Houston, and I've been in contact with some guys via text and calls, and we won't be any less hungry or any less motivated to try to do it again. I think our guys enjoyed the run and want to do it again.

Q. Managers talk all the time about the best player being the hardest worker. When you get to camp with a guy like Verlander and maybe young guys (inaudible).

A.J. HINCH: He sets the tone. He does set the tone. He and Dallas both. They set the tone for a great mentality on our pitching staff. I think Brent Strom connects well, young and old, as a pitching coach. Verlander and Keuchel really do set the excellence at a high level on what's expected not only in the work but the studying behind the scenes the information that they take, the volume in which they throw and then ultimately sort of the bulldog mentality when you pitch. And it makes it easy for the coaching staff when you have examples that take the ball every five days and prepare the way that those guys do.

Houston Astros