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October 5, 2015

AJ Hinch

New York, New York: Workout Day

MODERATOR: A.J. Hinch has joined us.

Q. A.J., what kind of particular problems does Tanaka create for you guys? How would you evaluate him?
A.J. HINCH: Well, we saw him earlier this year and we've seen a lot of him. He's obviously a very effective pitcher when he can get his split-finger into his repertoire, specifically for strikes, and he goes below the zone quite a bit.

So swing and miss is a little bit a part of our deal. We've done that before. So I think expanding the zone for him is a strength of his. It's certainly something we've got to pay attention to, create some problems.

Some elevated pitchers can play into our power. But he's a real challenge because of that fastball-split combo.

Q. A lot has been made about you guys being a young team, but over the last few months do you feel you've grown up in playoff mode?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, we've had to grow up. This month was a little bit unique for us, because we started out in the month in first place. We had a very, very difficult first 10 days. Got beat up in Texas. And had to respond under the spotlight.

And during the year, we had a couple of different five-game losing streaks where we ended with six or seven out of eight and to do that in September on the road at the end showed me a lot about our team.

So I think our playoff-caliber baseball we've had to play for the better part of three or four weeks should pay dividends. It's certainly something that we talk about inside of having to play one game at a time for about the last month.

So I would expect our team to relish in it.

Q. What's impressed you the most about Carlos this year?
A.J. HINCH: Correa? Just his poise. This kid came into the big leagues with a great spotlight on him. Everyone knows who Correa is, number one pick, expectations through the roof. And you wouldn't expect anyone to live up to them, let alone exceed them the way he has. So he's handled himself with a ton of poise, a ton of charisma.

He quickly became the center focus of our lineup. And as a 20-, 21-year-old, he hasn't backed down a bit. The attention has been on him since the day he got signed as the first overall pick. It only magnified when he got to the Big Leagues and he's only exceeded the expectations every step along the way.

Q. Keuchel has had a lot of success, obviously this season specifically against the Yankees. Talk about what it means to be able to have him available tomorrow night to make the start?
A.J. HINCH: The way the schedule played out we had the off day on Thursday, and obviously I moved him up to Friday to have a potential day with three days' rest. So handing him the ball is pretty easy for me.

We've got a number of good starting pitchers, but none have been as exceptional as Dallas. The way he goes about it, his preparation, and for those that haven't seen him throughout the year, I think his notoriety has grown. He's only gotten better along the way.

To be the pitcher of the month so many months of the year, to win 20 games, to really answer the challenge and have only one or two starts that were hiccups along the way, he's our ace, he's our guy.

So to hand him the ball with the season on the line, pretty awesome.

Q. Curious just as far as Evan Gattis goes, specifically to the amount of triples that he's hit this year, I'm wondering how you account for it just in general?
A.J. HINCH: He's got this hidden speed that you guys didn't know about it.

Our ballpark isn't even that conducive to triples unless you hit in a very, very specific area.

So it's certainly taken a life of its own. It's a fun topic. He does hit the ball as hard as anybody on our team. The depth of velocity is very good, trajectory is always really good. He's hit the ball that's caromed a little bit, and when it was five triples it was a big deal. When it was seven triples it was a bigger deal.

He got to double digits and you feel like it's our year. This is not something anybody would project.

Q. And just to follow up on that, do you think there's something to be said about his evolution as a player; you know going after those triples as often as he has, in light of all the things he's done for you -- learning to play a different position, being DH full-time and things like that?
A.J. HINCH: He's an overall really good player. And his intensity is well noted in our clubhouse. He loves his at-bats. He's a little bit of a caged animal in the DH position. He's used to catching and being in the flow of everything.

He's adapted well. He's stayed healthy. He stayed hungry. He had a really rough April and bounced back to lead our team in a couple of different offensive categories.

So he's been the center part, in the middle of our order for the better part of the year against righties and against lefties. There's something scary about him when he gets up to bat with a big beard and no batting gloves.

He brings so much presence to a team that has a lot of different things going for us.

Q. Have you set your playoff roster and do you expect any surprises?
A.J. HINCH: Surprising you or surprising me?

Q. I'm worried about me.
A.J. HINCH: You know, we've talked a little bit about it. We've got a couple more decisions to make. Obviously I'm going to wait on Gomez to see his availability after today's workout. We've got some decisions to make on the pitching staff.

We'll probably carry one extra starter, starting pitcher, on the roster to back up Keuchel in case of a lot of different scenarios.

So we've got to make that decision. But mostly the group that's played in September won't surprise you, if you've been around our club every day. But a few last-minute decisions that we'll make by tomorrow.

Q. Can you describe what you were missing when George Springer was out and what you were able to regain when he came back home after the couple of weeks?
A.J. HINCH: George was leading off at the time when he got hurt, and was coming into his own right before the All-Star break. He brings a lot of energy. He brings a lot of passion. He's sort of the life of the party literally with what we had going on, pre- and post-game. So there's a lot of charisma that comes with George and intangibles that don't show up on a stat sheet or in a box score.

Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field to a real big power speed threat at the top of our order. When he came back, I initially put him at the top of the order. I then slotted him in the 2-hole behind Altuve. And his at-bats got better and better as he got more repetition being out with the hand injury.

In all, we lost a very productive player that has a profound impact on our club, with energy and passion and with real presence. This guy plays every day with a ton of energy.

And that type of example paired with Altuve at the top of the order and Correa at the middle of the order, and you've got some home run power threats throughout the order makes for a pretty dynamic offense.

Q. There's been a lot of conversation about how your young team will handle the New York state, I wonder what you remember about the 24-year-old A.J. Hinch and his first experience and the old one?
A.J. HINCH: I remember opening day here. We played opening day. It was -- New York's a big stage, especially for a guy from Oklahoma. And I enjoyed it. When you first feel like you make it here, Octobers usually come through New York, at least they have in my career and through my Major League experience.

So I think it's great. Our guys, and the personality on our club, is very, very consistent. Even in the low times when some of these losing streaks at the beginning of the month when a lot of people thought it was a nice Astros story that we were fading into the stress of September, we maintained our composure. We did a really good job of bouncing back.

So I would hope I did that as a 24-year-old. I'm not sure facing the Andy Pettittes of the world and the Derek Jeters of the world and the Roger Clemens of the world is that easy. But my memory is going to tell me that I bounced back, too. Against David Cone. Yeah, my first hit was against David Cone, so the Yankee name has been on my -- one of my favorite in baseball for a long time.

Q. I wanted your thoughts on Keuchel pitching on three days' rest. Is that overrated?
A.J. HINCH: You know, it's new. I think as pitch counts and innings counts and so much notoriety around how we handle pitching has grown over the years, it becomes a bigger deal than maybe it really is.

I think in this stage, I think adrenalin is going to carry them a long way. I think his preparation is fine. Physically he's fine. It's just a little bit of a different routine.

It probably garners more attention than it needs to. But at the end of the day, I think if he pitches well it will be a lot of guts and he came through on short rest. If he doesn't pitch well, then it's a change in routine and a lack of rest. So it's not ideal by any means.

If I had my choice, he would be on regular rest or extra rest. But with the situation that we're in, we needed to win on Friday, he needed to pitch. He did a great job. We got him out under 100 pitches.

I have a lot of belief that Dallas will be physically and mentally perfect for this challenge.

Q. Did you have an eye on this game when you kept Gomez out after the game in Seattle, and what kind of impact can he make, and where did he stand on that?
A.J. HINCH: I did have an idea that we wanted to shoot for a potential playoff run with Carlos. The play in Seattle, the interesting part of all we've been concerned about this entire time has been the torque with his swing.

And the play that was uncomfortable for him was a game-saving or game-winning, game-ending throw from center field at about 95 miles an hour from dead center field.

So once that happened, I definitely didn't want to take a risk of either, A, not having at-bats that we could handle, not giving away outs if he couldn't swing because of the soreness from the throwing.

We'll see what kind of state he's in. He's done absolutely everything we've asked to harness a little bit of his energy and harness a little bit of his desire to test it in the last few days. Today we'll test it a little bit more. And see exactly what he can offer. It's difficult to tell a player to govern himself when he goes out, specifically on the big national stage, in a Wild Card game in Yankee Stadium. But at the same time this is about the time to test it if you're going to do it.

Because he's a dynamic player. The last time we were in this building he created a bit of a stir so we know he brings energy. He's the first guy to congratulate our guys when they score. He's quickly become part of the heartbeat of what we do. It would be nice to have him out there.

Q. I know you talked to us about this a number of times. But how special is it for you and your club to be here and how do you feel they'll respond in this scenario?
A.J. HINCH: It's very special. Being the first year here in Houston, and talking about this club from the beginning of February, I'm really proud of this group. We've earned every win we had this year. And to be able to play as good of baseball as we did -- from the beginning of April, I felt like we came on to the scene with a little bit of surprise for a lot of people, not in our clubhouse but around baseball. As the story grew and we found ourselves in first place for the better part of five months, there was a storybook part of this. And the players embraced it, the coaches embraced it. We were loving every minute of it. And then things got a little heated and intense, a little hot. To watch our club bounce back from that and be rewarded with a playoff berth is great to see.

And our players have a great personality. Unfortunately for tonight, today and tomorrow, you won't get a chance to know them as well as our local media. But this is a fun group. This workout you're about to see is going to be as loose as they come because we believe that we can advance.

That's not to take anything away from the Yankees or anybody else we've played. We feel we have a good team that has a chance to win the game.

Q. In how many ways has Keuchel grown the most this even?
A.J. HINCH: I think his pitch efficiency has gotten a little better as the year has gone on. He really can attack the strike zone with a number of pitches. His put-away pitches have also been very good. His strikeouts are not as -- maybe a marquee thing for him, but putting away hitters when he gets ahead has been a strength of his and grown over the year.

I think he's got great pride in going deep into the games. He wants to finish his own game. I haven't taken him out of a game this year where he's been happy about it. And that type of mentality is very infectious and very much impacts our team's thought process that we can win the game.

Q. Especially in the last few weeks, you didn't shy away from one of these games are more important than the other games -- whether it's treat it like every other game. This one is a little bit more important. Have you thought about the message to the team, or do you continue, hey, this is really important but you guys are good enough to respond?
A.J. HINCH: You know, one of the first messages and something I really believe in from the beginning of the season is our best is good enough. And I've used that phrase for a reason. And it really does make you believe that our best tonight is good enough. And we put a lot of nights together to put 86 wins together to get into the Wild Card and be given the opportunity to play this game tomorrow night.

So our best is good enough tomorrow night, too, and so is the Yankees. They're a good club. We faced them six times. We've had good games against them. But our team and our mentality is just being our best on any given night and how dangerous we can be; we have our best pitch on the mound, we have our bullpen rested. It's the center stage. It's win or go home. I can't downplay it as much as I'd like to. I'd love to tell these guys be free and see what happens.

The reality is tomorrow night there will be a lot of adrenaline and attention because it is the most important part of the year.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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