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October 6, 2015

AJ Hinch

New York, New York: Game Day

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by A.J. Hinch.

Q. Gomez back in the lineup. What's your confidence level in what he's able to do physically and all that?
A.J. HINCH: He's bouncing around the clubhouse ready to play. Obviously I have concerns just because he's not 100 percent. But in this moment, with this type of player, the importance of this game, this is the time to do it.

And so he'll go through a routine to prepare to play. We'll communicate consistently throughout the game. I just told him give us his best and we'll gauge where that is.

But there's no doubt he can be an electrifying force in our lineup and on the field. And in this city and this ballpark, he'll have a ton of energy.

Q. If Carlos is jumping around the walls, what about the rest of the team, what's the mood right before?
A.J. HINCH: No, we have a good vibe about us. You know, we don't take ourselves too seriously, which is a good thing, from day one.

We're excited. I mean, we're anxious to get out on the field, the 8:00 start is late for us, but the last I checked they were gathered around the TV watching Gattis do an interview, talking about doing squats with Altuve on his shoulders. So I think we're in a good place.

Q. When you added Matt Duffy to the roster would you have imagined that he would be playing or at least on a roster for a game like this and why is he a guy?
A.J. HINCH: What a great story for Duff. He's living the dream here obviously being from the northeast, we're at Yankee Stadium, he's on the playoff roster, off a player-of-the-year type of season in the minor leagues. His at-bat quality has been pretty good. He hasn't had an opportunity but there's something about his at-bats that makes you feel pretty comfortable when you're in my shoes. So left-handed pitchers down in their bullpen, they've got a bunch of them. He's got a good way about himself against left-handed pitching. Whether we carry that extra bat or maybe Thatcher as an extra reliever or Velasquez as an extra reliever, there could be another starter in Kazmir, those are the debates in the end. Probably couldn't have gone wrong -- we're not really sure how these next 27 outs are going to play out but having Duffy on the bench as right-handed bat was very valuable.

Q. For those who haven't got to watch him regularly, how much value do you place on Jason Castro's ability to control the opposition running game?
A.J. HINCH: We place a lot of it and him as a field general is important for us running the games, too. He's developed a great rapport with our pitching staff. That's always a huge priority for me to have the trust of your pitching staff, whether it's balls in the dirt, controlling the running game, volatile pitch calling.

These are huge moments for a pitcher. So to have a stable guy like Castro back there pays huge dividends over the course of the season and in the course of important games.

So I love his work. He hasn't had the best offensive season of the year, but -- or of his career -- but he's never taken any of that offense out to behind the plate. So he's come up with a couple of big home runs, a couple of big walk-offs for us. He can certainly do some damage in this ballpark if he gets the ball on the pole side. So he can contribute on both sides of the ball, but his biggest impact this year has definitely been how he controls the pitching staff.

Q. Carlos Correa has come up and gotten comparisons to a young A-Rod which is really high praise. Is that fair and what can people expect to see from him if they haven't seen him before?
A.J. HINCH: So player comparisons in general for me are a little unfair. When a guy's 20, we always look back to the past on how guys relate a little bit or look like previous players.

So with Carlos being a tall shortstop, slender, lean, you know the comparisons I heard, Cal Ripken. I heard Tulowitzki. I heard Jeter and A-Rod. All we've ever wanted him to be is Carlos Correa. I'm not big on putting limitations on guys or expectations. I just want him to be his best. It's natural to look at phenomenal prospects when they come up to the Big Leagues at 20 years old. There's only a small list and A-Rod was on that.

So I don't expect him to do anything more than what's his best, and his best is really good. And whether that's going to be below A-Rod's career, even to A-Rod's career or exceed A-Rod's career is going to be played out over the next two decades.

Q. I'm curious, in light of the skepticism in some quarters from when you were hired and skepticism generally there's been around Jeff's Astro's project, how much validation do you feel at this moment, getting to this point in the Wild Card? And how much do you think there is in going and potentially winning the game at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs?
A.J. HINCH: You're not the first person to tell me there were questions. I've had to answer a couple of those. I understand they're warranted.

When you're in this game a long time you see a lot of different things and you feel a lot of different things and what you learn is people have an opinion on you or on what you're doing in every way.

So validation, I don't know, I don't need validation. I need the players' respect. I need the players to play well. Need a team identity and a team culture to show up every day to win.

What it does for me is when I get that, then that's validation that I'm running the club the right way.

What that means to the outside world or what that means as far as whether I should be in this job or whether I should have stayed in the front office or whether I should have got the first opportunity in Arizona is up for debate from everybody outside this building.

So I appreciate what I'm doing. I think Jeff has built a tremendous franchise that's on the rise. I think some of our best baseball is still ahead of us, and I hope that continues on tonight. But we don't really need validation. We just need to continue to build the culture that we have to win games we're supposed to win and certainly build a culture that these players can thrive in.

Q. You're in the Bronx, New York City, capital of marketing, in Yankee Stadium, playing the most important game probably of the season and you guys are so relaxed. What are you feeding these guys?
A.J. HINCH: I'm feeding them the truth. All we need to be is our best. I'm telling you. And it's easier said than done. Our guys have a real good personality about themselves. The moment doesn't have to beat you.

There's a lot of unknown here. We don't know how these guys are going to play out on the field. I've had games this year where our guys have showed up -- we just scored, how many, 21, 22 runs the other night in Arizona when the most pressure was on us, where the Wild Card was slipping away from us, and the division -- I mean, our guys know how to play.

And they know how to show up and be there for each other, and that's a culture that was developed at the beginning of Spring Training. We've lived through it the whole year. We've answered it, and we're on the biggest stage. I just don't know why we would have to change our approach or change our mentality or get nervous now.

We are definitely not expected to be here. So I can play the underdog card a little bit with those guys, but those guys don't want to hear it. They want to win. They want to be expected to win. They want the pressure, and that's because of the makeup of this team is very, very special, and they push each other in a way that I can really appreciate. Both teams can't be underdogs anyway.

Q. Your personal journey, last year, in September, you were in between jobs. You came here to see Jeter and give him your best wishes. Then you took the Astros job, went to Spring Training, now here you are. Can you talk about the acceleration of this over such a quick period of time?
A.J. HINCH: No, this has been -- I feel I could write a book about my career. I'm not going to. But it's been such a journey. And from the -- I didn't know I'd get the opportunity to manage the first time at 34. When Josh Burns hired me and asked me to manage, I literally thought he was talking about me going to Double-A. I didn't know what he wanted.

Ended up being the manager in Arizona, which ended badly, but if it wasn't for that experience I wouldn't have gotten this opportunity because one of the first criterias Jeff told me he was looking for somebody with experience.

And so I can appreciate every step along the way, learning the background of player development and scouting, learning the ins and outs of an organization, and being able to lead on the field for two franchises that thrive with young players, that was important.

And last July I was making calls to GMs and we were making a lot of trades in San Diego. And this July I was begging Jeff to make trades of our own to add to our team. So this whirlwind year for me going from sort of interim GM to unemployed, to manager of the Astros, to now the playoffs, I don't want it to end.

I want it to keep going for our guys and for this organization and for the rest of my book.

Q. How much about playing Valbuena is about his performance as opposed to Lowrie's health, and how is Lowrie doing it, and how does Lowrie take it, signed a three-year deal in the offseason --
A.J. HINCH: I think the number one priority is my job is to put the team on the field that gives us the best chance to win.

And sometimes those messages are tough. Sometimes they're set up for you through injury or lack of performance. But yesterday I walked around the field during the workout and I told a couple of guys that weren't on the playoff roster, and some were expected. There were a number of guys that sort of understood they're here in September call-ups or weren't expecting to be on the 25-man. Other guys were on the bubble, and those aren't easy. These guys want to compete.

And then you go into the lineup and you do the same thing. So at least that's how I did it. I walked around the field, made sure everybody knew what was going on today. Jed took it like a pro, as I would expect him to. The contract that's signed the previous offseason isn't a driving force when it comes to making this decision for me.

Luis swung the bat very, very well the last couple of weeks. He's a good match-up with a low ball pitcher with quick Tanaka and right field is a little short here. So there's opportunity for us to use his strengths maybe a little more so than what Jed does. That doesn't mean Jed isn't going to help us win tonight. And I told him that. He's got every opportunity to come off the bench, pinch hit, left-hand, right-hand, go in for defense. I could do something with Carter or Valbuena that would insert him into the game. We need him to be his best once he goes into the game. And he's in.

One thing about our team, and Jed is certainly at the top of this, is that they buy in. They want to win tonight's game. They don't care who the hero is, they don't care who gets the final three outs; they don't care who starts the game. They want to end the night advancing in the playoffs.

And that mentality has helped us as a team get from the beginning of the season wondering who we are to knowing exactly who we are as we get to this game.

Q. Obviously he's All-Star and 200 hits and all, but could you address what Altuve has meant to your team and plus the relationship he has with Correa?
A.J. HINCH: So Altuve is a special talent. Everybody knows that. You don't get to 200 hits without a couple different things. One is remarkable consistency. Two is incredible bat-to-ball skills.

His at-bats really matter to him. And in the biggest moments he comes up -- he's got all the pressure in the world on him, he comes up with really good at-bats. I can recite a number of bats this year where game's on the line or runners in scoring position. He's at 199 hits the other day and he just comes up with time and time again.

So his impact on our team is profound. He's the model of consistency when it comes to, shows up every day ready to play, shows up with energy, does have a bounce in his step. There's something about him and his persona and his style that, when he starts the game, when we're at home, there's a buzz when he's coming up to bat, when the lineup's rolling around we know the ball's going to be put in play. And that type of confidence in the top of your order is pretty nice to have.

And his relationship with Correa, I want to touch on, because I'm not sure which guy influences one over the other. They have this brotherly competition. They love each other. They're around each other all the time.

It always makes me laugh when I look out at the National Anthem and I've got a 6'4" shortstop and a 5'5" second baseman and they're locked in together.

It's a great tandem to have that Astros fans appreciate being around them every day. The national exposure that these guys are going to get is only going to increase how far they reach.

But they're ours, and they really do, both of them are great examples, and it makes my job easier to have two of your best players be two of your best examples.

Q. With George Springer, what's his attitude today? I mean, he's never played here. He's always getting hurt right before. How special do you think tonight is for him, a local kid?
A.J. HINCH: I almost held him out of the workout yesterday. I didn't want him to get hurt the day before his Yankee Stadium debut. He's been looking so forward to playing in this part of the country.

I know I don't have to worry about George, his energy, his passion, his sort of will power. I've got to control his excitement a little bit. But in some ways I think that might feed all positive things for us.

I mean, he's going to come out swinging. There will be a little extra umpf in his bat speed. So his attitude is great. He's ready to go. He's just like the rest of our team.

If we could have made a special request to have this game start at 1:00, we were ready to play. Unfortunately, they're making us wait until 8:00.

But that kind of excitement we're going to embrace, and George, being the highest energy guy we have, he'll have a little competition with Gomez tonight. But he's going to really put himself in a position to help us win, which is all that matters.


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