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October 7, 2015

AJ Hinch

Kansas City, Missouri - Workout Day

THE MODERATOR: We're going to get started with Houston manager A.J. Hinch. If you have questions.

Q. Can you talk about how you think your power will match up in this ballpark? I know you guys, kind of that's a lot of what you do. This is a big ballpark and how you approach the lineup and power and so forth.
A.J. HINCH: I think power's been a part of our game all year. I mean, obviously, we hit the number of home runs that we hit without it being a big deal to us.

It's not the only way we score runs. Especially when you get into -- against good pitching in a big ballpark, you're not often rewarded with balls in the air. But it's our identity. It's part of what we do. We can steal bases. We can hit a few extra base hits.

But I think it's a tough matchup. You don't ever go into games trying to hit homers or thinking that's the only way you're going to score.

So with our guys, as we match up, I'll have to decide on a couple of different occasions, do you want to go defense versus offense. Do you want to put the big power -- yesterday I did power in Yankees stadium, which is a completely different ballpark.

But I come to the ballpark every day with those sort of dilemmas. But the good part is no matter who I put in, we've got some bench players that have some power. We have a chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

What I've learned about our guys is that we have enough power to hit the ball out of any ballpark. We've just got to get a good pitch to hit.

Q. A.J., you come in and take over a team that's lost 416 games in four years, end of the season, you're in the postseason. Is there an approach you have with guys to try to overcome the mentality that gets into that?
A.J. HINCH: One of the things in the spring I noticed about our guys, especially the guys who have been here, Altuve, Castro, Kuechel, guys who have experienced some of the lower seasons, they were tired of losing.

I think the one thing that was important to me in the spring was to get their mindset right to where our best was good enough on a daily basis.

You can't ever be comfortable with losing at this level. It will beat you down. And certainly, during a rebuilding process, I didn't have to suffer through it like some of the people around here, but the mentality was -- there was a great hunger at the beginning of the season. I think we needed to add some belief.

And as we played better and better, as the season went along, we started to believe a little bit and the appetite for winning, not just not losing, became the greatest focus.

Q. You touched on it a little bit yesterday in that you weren't seeking any kind of vindication for you as a manager, your abilities. But was there thoughts of, okay, when I get to do this again, or if I get the opportunity to do this again, I won't do this, I won't do this. I'll certainly do this, and I won't compromise on that? How did those things fit into what's happened this season?
A.J. HINCH: I go back to a lot of Spring Training speeches, because I meet with our team every day in spring in getting to know them, I wanted them to get to know me.

I think the difference the second time around, and anybody will tell you probably in any job, when you get another opportunity to do something, you want to make adjustments on what you feel like you did well, what you didn't do well.

For me, it was showing more comfort in this role, in this job, in this position. I had some experience to fall back on.

I asked our players to be themselves. As whacky as they wanted to be, as fun as they wanted to be, as competitive as they could be. In turn, I was going to give them everything that I was.

And most of that stuff's behind the scenes and in showing of personality and showing a personal connection with each of these guys. But you learn a lot being in this sport over the years.

I've been around a lot of really good managers in my day, both as a player and as an executive. And I took a lot of good things from Bud Blacks of the world and Bob Melvins of the world and Charlie Manuel, who I played for, and Tony Pena, who I played for. Just different things that I noticed that they would show the ability to pull things out of players.

I realize the second time around how important it was to build a good coaching staff, to develop a culture, to get their mindset right and just be yourself.

And if I want the players to be that way on the field, I certainly need to show that consistency behind the scenes.

Q. A.J., I guess Ventura, who can be wild, how important is plate discipline?
A.J. HINCH: It's very important. He's a tough pitcher. We faced him once here in Kansas City during the summer. It's a tough call whether to be aggressive versus him, versus be very selective. If you fall behind him, it's a bigger challenge to hit him.

So you've got to be ready to hit. He does spray the ball from time to time, but he has electrifying stuff when he's on. Velocity, top notch. Good breaking ball. Understands the moment.

He pitches with a lot of emotion. There's probably going to be a few people in the stands that are elevating that intensity tomorrow night.

So getting a good pitch to hit is always important, regardless. When you get a pitcher of his caliber, where it's difficult to put borderline pitches in play in your favor, and so you've got to really zone in to do damage.

You might get a few mistakes, but you won't get many.

Q. You obviously played on the Royals in the early 2000s. They hadn't quite hit rock bottom at that point, but I'm sure --
A.J. HINCH: Thank you for that. It wasn't rock bottom when I played for them.

Q. It was headed there, but it wasn't there yet. But --
A.J. HINCH: Once they lost me, it got worse.

Q. Correct. But I'm sure you paid some attention to that and then, obviously, they had their renaissance. Did you draw any parallels to that? What was it like going through that type of losing?
A.J. HINCH: It's -- I guess I learned a lot throughout my whole career and the different teams that you play for. It's a completely different perspective from the manager's chair.

I probably know the pain a little bit of what that's like in the manager's chair from my previous time. But you learn a lot about people through adversity, through some tough times.

As players, if you focus on the players the most and try to get the most out of them, I think that's the best way to get them to perform pretty well. And it takes a lot of patience.

We were starting out the year this year, we were very focused on winning. We got tired of talking about working on things or getting better or developing. But at the same time, when you look up and you've got a 20-year-old shortstop at the time, you've got some young players in the outfield, you've got a young Lance McCullers who comes up to pitch, Vince Velasquez came up, Preston Tucker made his debut, there's still development going on. And there's still ways to focus on the present, trying to win tonight's game, but also you're shaping careers and getting guys comfortable being in the big leagues.

I think my time in the game as a player probably helped that, because I saw that firsthand in Oakland when I first debuted. We were a very young team and ended up making a playoff run, coming to Kansas City same thing and go to Philly as well.

So that's three teams that made playoff runs after they got rid of me. So I'm glad to be a part of this one.

Q. A.J., a couple questions. First of all, do you have your starting pitchers? Are you ready to announce them? Also, do you see some similarities between both clubs and the way you play and the way the teams were built?
A.J. HINCH: To answer your first question, it will be McHugh tomorrow night. It will be Kazmir on Friday afternoon and it will be Kuechel on Sunday afternoon in Houston. McHugh, Kazmir, Kuechel.

The second question -- let you guys tweet that out first.

Q. You're good.
A.J. HINCH: Okay. You guys didn't have that loaded up? The second question, you know, there are some similarities with our team with the exception that they played in the World Series last year.

We have team speed. They have team speed. They're known for their defense. I think our defense has been underrated. The balance, they have a lot of balance on their team and so do we up and down the lineup.

I mean, I look at the guys hitting at the bottom of our order any given night and Valbuena and Carter both have a ton of power and offer a lot of threats. You look at the bottom of their order and Alex Gordon is hitting eighth a lot. That signal as very, very deep, long lineup.

So homegrown talent's a part of both. Some trades are a part of both. Both teams seizing the moment a little bit at the deadline, trying to improve the team.

I think both teams sense the opportunity might be there to make a run in October. Certainly, they've been a year or two ahead of us in this, I guess, move to the middle of relevant baseball with their run last year. But both really good clubs and I got to know Ned a little bit at the All-Star Game and I know a lot of their coaches over there. I played with one of their coaches.

It's just really nice to be here and be able to compete against them after the way the summer went.

Q. Bullpen seems like it went through that rough patch, did very well last night. Do you think they've kind of withstood the worst part of it? How have the roles changed? Seems like Sipp is playing a more important role going into the playoffs?
A.J. HINCH: The bullpen, for the better part of five months, was near the top in baseball. We do it a little bit differently. We don't necessarily have the most velocity, but we have a great effectiveness against right-handers and left-handers.

We have had some guys that get opposite-handed hitters out effectively. So that's always nice to have.

I think when you get to playoff baseball and certainly the way we played on this last road trip, you get into the game at Yankees Stadium last night, any thought of struggles early in the month as a team or the bullpen having a little bit of a rough go is out the window.

Our guys are confident. They understand. They've been ready since about the second or third inning on of every game for about the last two or three weeks.

So I think we've cleared the hurdle mentally of some of the down times and some of the struggles. I'll take the first five-plus months of their performance and believe that's what's going to show up down the stretch here and in this playoff run.

If we focus on the negative or focus on the little 10-day, 12-day, 14-day stretch where things didn't go our way, we'd be doing a great disservice to a really good bullpen over the course of a whole six-month season.

As far as roles go, I told them in mid-September that the roles were somewhat out the window. We were going to go with the hot hand a little bit. Obviously, Gregerson has maintained the back end, the very back end and has quietly put together a sensational season of consistency.

Sipp and Harris have gotten really hot of late. I've used those guys in a ton of leverage situations, and they've been getting the ball to Gregerson. I still believe in pat Neshek. You don't have the type of career he has or the type of effectiveness on righties without being pretty good. He'll play a key role in this.

Oliver Perez has come on strong. I used him six days in a row so that shows you I have a lot of trust and faith in him. Not always smart to use guys six days in a row, but he's survived.

All in all, we have a pretty deep group. They are a match-up style bullpen so we're going to keep a lot of those guys on this roster moving forward. But I believe in them.

Q. Somewhat related to that, you obviously went on a very important road trip at the end of the season, got the job done, and then you did it again. That came after a season where it just wasn't very good at all on the road. First of all, do you have any explanation for that? Some people think their power doesn't play on the road or doesn't seem to play out on stats. Any explanation for the road troubles? Do you him think the recent things help that out?
A.J. HINCH: I say this tongue in cheek. I think when we started wearing the orange uni's on the road. Turned the tide. I have no idea. It's something I haven't been able to figure out. There really is no rhyme or reason why we've done that. We haven't been uncomfortable on the road. If you're around our team this series, you'll notice a very calm vibe, a very even-keel group.

We're not intimidated by the road. We haven't backed down from -- we've played some bad baseball at times where we just haven't pulled out enough wins. I mean, the facts are the facts.

We definitely -- we can't run from it. Our record's our record. But I do like the way our team responded on the road the last week, when we really needed to win. We did, and when we went into Yankees Stadium last night in a very volatile environment and we won. So I think we've conquered our -- at least some of the disbelief that we can't win in our gray uniforms.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much, A.J., good luck tomorrow.

A.J. HINCH: Dallas, I just named you Sunday start.

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