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October 14, 2017

AJ Hinch

Houston, Texas - pregame 2

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for A.J.

Q. Any updates on Marwin and his fatherhood and his fitness to play today?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah. No, I haven't seen Marwin but they did have their baby last night or this morning, whichever way you want to look at it. So happy for him and Noel and their family, their third child, a little baby boy, and I'm expecting him to show up and be ready to play.

Q. Kenny Giles threw 37 pitches last night. His availability today, but also just sort of the way your bullpen is right now do you feel like guys are set in their roles or are you kind of feeling them out with some of these guys as you go along?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, you know, first off, with Giles is going to play catch this morning like he normally would and then he and I will communicate on what he feels, how he feels, percentage that he feels, whatever we need to do before the game. Then at some point we'll make a decision on whether or not he's usable.

As far as roles in the bullpen, I think nowadays it's sort of hard to even consider anybody having a role. It's the playoffs. You need to use your guys the best way you can in the most leveraged situations and who matches up with who, and like it or not, that's the way baseball is. So I think we'll react accordingly.

I'm completely confident in the group we have down there, so it could be anybody. It could be Will Harris who has saves on his resume, it could be Joe Musgrove, it could be Chris Devenski has been an exceptional reliever. Might be Brad Peacock who is unfazed by any role that he has if Ken Giles isn't going to be used.

So it's all-hands-on-deck mentality, our guys understand that. And while I think everybody would love to have this 7th inning guy, the 8th inning guy, the 9th inning guy, I'm not sure that's the most efficient way to use your pen if you can get the buy-in from your players, and our players buy in.

Q. Last night Jose said that Marwin is one of the best players in the league. He was emphatic about that, George unsung hero. How have you seen him grow as a player just from the roles that he had while you've been here and working his way up to this every day status?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, Marwin is very talented because he can play virtually every position out there, and play them well. So I think that's a tribute to his work and his versatility. And there's been many days he's come near my office with five different gloves and asking me which one he needs to use today. We're going to see some of that versatility, he may play in the infield as the series goes.

So as far as his evolution as player, when I got here, his big concern was, where do I fit in. He looks around and he sees Altuve in the infield, he knew Correa was coming, we had Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena that were our infielders, we had first base, but he never really played first base. And somehow there was always a way that we had to work him into playing time. And to his credit, he's put in effort at a lot of different positions to learn and play them and play them well.

And then as the years have grown the last couple years, his offense has gotten better, his defense has gotten more versatile, as seen last night with the outfield play, and he's changed a little bit. He's taken to heart some things he needs to do to be better, whether it's his swing decisions at the plate, whether it's his productivity. In 2015 it was his right-handed swing that needed work, and he became a viable pinch hitter for us right-handed in the playoffs in 2015.

And now he's virtually an everyday player, just not knowing where he's going to play. For that, that's what makes him valuable to us. He's a winning player, he helps us in so many different ways, to where if I ever give a guy a day off, and Marwin Gonzales is the fill-in, that's a pretty good fallback option for a Correa, for Altuve, for Bregman, for Yuli. And then now that the playoffs are here, there's no way he's not going to be in the lineup.

Q. Between Severino and the Yankees bullpen they have got a lot of guys that throw a lot of high-velocity fastballs. Your team is very good at hitting high-velocity fastballs. Why is that?
A.J. HINCH: I think everything starts at the fastball. Our guys are hunting fastballs from the very beginning of the at-bat and a lot of these guys can time it up. We hit off the fastball, our timing, our pitch recognition all comes off of where the slot where the fastball is. And these guys have some high-end fastballs across the way.

It can be pretty intimidating given that one after another come in throwing 95 to a hundred. They're all a little different. Some guys are four-seam carry guys, some guys are moving. They got a dude down there left-handed that throws pretty hard. We just have to hit off the fastball first and in that challenge mentality we're going to make sure we cover their best pitch.

So as the series goes and we get a little bit more comfortable with these guys, it will be interesting to see how the game plans change. In a seven-game series we see guys over and over and over again. That's going to be an adjustment. We saw in Game 1, Tanaka didn't throw near as many split fingers as he had against the Indians in his previous start. He pounded us in with fastballs and threw some sliders. So that's an adjustment. Dallas Keuchel didn't throw any changeups or hardly any changeups against these guys. If they match up again this series, do they change, do they not change, who makes the first adjustment, we'll see.

But I think most hitting clubs, good hitting clubs hit off the fastball first, and that becomes something to watch when it comes to the competition here.

Q. What is Lance McCullers' best role in this series? And separately, do you think given his light workload at the end of the season you would be capable of starting him a game in the series?
A.J. HINCH: His best role is going to be get whatever outs that we put him in for. That could be in the starting rotation in Game 4 or it might be in a relief appearance today.

So I think he's a dynamic pitcher who has weapons for any hitter in the game. When's locked in with his breaking ball, he's really hard to hit. Right-handed, left-handed, early in the game, late in the game, it's a dynamic pitch for the hitter to have to deal with.

Where we allocate the resources there to put him in the game is going to be determined over the rest of the series, but I have complete confidence in him. If we start him Game 4, he'll be ready to go. The endurance, the adrenaline, the big moment won't be a big deal, if we put him in relief today or any other game then he needs to come in and get his outs.

Q. Is Dallas an option to start Game 4 on short rest?
A.J. HINCH: Unlikely. Unlikely. I guess you never say never but very unlikely.

Q. Going back to Giles and your assessment of whether you might have him available today, I would imagine in the regular season it's, you know, something you don't even consider. What are the things that you kind of look at? Because I would imagine is it a case of just is he going to be effective enough today to use rather than am I going to wear him out?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, is just the fatigue level. When you go out, we all have a fatigue level, I'm sure you guys are tired, I'm a little tired, we all have a fatigue level when we show up for work. His effectiveness to be able to execute pitches, I don't care if you throw a hundred or his slider, I think it's key to be able to execute the game plan in order to get the outs. And obviously for him, they're the most important outs the last three most of the time.

So we'll pay attention to how he feels, where he feels, and then gauge that with the rest of our bullpen options against the particular hitters that they would be facing and make a determination if that's the right way to go.

Normally everybody will say, Hey, it's the playoffs, just let it happen and let it eat, and that sounds great until you put a guy in who is fatigued and not executing pitches and if it goes south then there's no way to replay that game or get that opportunity back. So we'll see.

I think for Ken I know he's going to say he's fine, I think going, coming to the ballpark I know that, we need to just make a determination on what the most effective way to get our outs are against the Yankees.

Q. Speaking of Ken, how essential was it for this team to get him after the 2015 season and how important has he been?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah. No, he's been big and he's grown and matured over the last couple of years in the role. In 2015 we had a little trouble at the end of the playoffs in the pen, that was widely documented. And then we make a huge monster trade to get him and the burden of trying to finish games is hard at this level. The burden of trying to finish games on a team coming off of the 2015 playoffs was huge for him.

He's a big trade, he's a young guy, he comes from wanting to be the guy and wanting to be the closer and he came in with -- we had a good closer in Luke Gregerson, he had done very well, he was Team USA's closer in the WBC this year.

So when all of that happened for Ken, as he's developing at the Major League level, it was a big step for him. And I think this year I've seen him be much more comfortable on this team, much more comfortable in his own skin. He knows his strengths, he's changed a little bit, he elevates the fastball a little bit more, he knows how to land his breaking ball for a strike and how effective that can be, when to get chases. And the heartbeat continues to stay at a level that's very trustworthy as a closer.

So this multiple-inning thing that's gone on and happened in September we tried to get him ready for this role, he's adjusted well, he's answered the challenge the last two times, once in the Division Series, once last night. So we can't forget that's continuing to develop and continuing to evolve. And having that type of weapon at the back of the bullpen gives an entire room of players the confidence that we're going to close games out when he comes in the game.

THE MODERATOR: All right, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

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