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October 16, 2017

AJ Hinch

New York, New York - pregame 3

Q. How will your pitch usage tonight, depending if you're winning or losing, correlate with who your Game 4 starter will be, has that been mapped out?
A.J. HINCH: I've mapped out like a hundred scenarios, and none of which I know what's going to happen. For us we have the luxury of having multiple capable guys that can go tomorrow. And I get to kind of roll with it today and see what it takes to win the game.

Obviously I'm very comfortable with Charlie starting, and if he can get to the bridge to the back of the bullpen, our bullpen is rested, I haven't had to use a ton of guys, or any outside of Ken Giles.

We'll see how the game plays out and by the end of the day we'll have the starter for tomorrow.

Q. What's the biggest challenge for a team, especially a younger team, when it becomes a clear favorite, as you did so early this season?
A.J. HINCH: First off, I'm not sure we're as young as people think. We're pretty battle tested and ready. I think the challenge is just to stay current in the moment with the game that we want to win today.

I think our guys are ultra focused. I think we have a clear understanding of what a seven-game series means, and what it takes to try to close it out. We're two games into it.

We're not immature, we're not young kids. We're not scared of the moment. We'll be ready to play today, which is all we really need to worry about.

Q. Earlier this season you got to the fast start.
A.J. HINCH: We were the same age early in the season, too (laughter).

We've been the same team with a couple of new additions. But I think for us, we had expectations from when we showed up in Spring Training. We played well from the very beginning. The most difficult part was having to answer questions. It's more for me than the players of just getting to the end of the season the way we did. We finished as strong as any team in baseball. In September we got to over a hundred wins.

But that started with exactly the mentality that we're going to carry today, which play today's game. And that's all we have in front of us.

Q. It comes up a lot, obviously your veterans on the team, and in the clubhouse the guys just bring it up a lot, they go to Carlos, they go to McCann, and now Verlander. Do you notice that at all? Do you know what kind of conversations they're having? And the second part of that, how much did that matter to you as a player to have that?
A.J. HINCH: Well, let me tell you a story. Carlos Beltran is one of the best teammates that you could possibly have. I had him as a teammate. Now I manage him. And he's grown so much over the years, just in his expression and his ability to communicate. His willingness to communicate. He knows a lot about the game. I joke with him, he didn't teach me anything when we played together; he's teaching me more things now I'm managing him.

The interaction among teammates is by far one of the strongest characteristics you can have of a close-knit team. To watch our guys feed off of one another. And believe it or not, it's not a top down mentality from the veterans; veterans are asking, What do you see from some of the younger guys? To George, What are you seeing? To the young pitching, what they're seeing. It's a full, all hands-on deck mentality of helping each other get to the end of the game ahead.

And so for me both as a player and as a manager to have a collaborative group that cares about one another, plays for one another, you couldn't have anything better.

Q. You faced Sonny Gray quite a bit the last three years. When he's been good, what are his strengths, what are you seeing from him that make him --
A.J. HINCH: That is tomorrow, now. Talk about CC today, but tomorrow is Sonny.

Q. Maybe can you describe about the conversations with Charlie Morton in terms of reinventing himself as a pitcher. It strikes me that you don't see it very often where a guy -- usually it's the other direction, maybe turns into a sinker ball later in his career?
A.J. HINCH: I don't think it's reinventing him, as much as it's convincing him to utilize his strengths the most. He's got tremendous arm strength. He's always had that. To use his pitches correctly or maximize their effectiveness is to get him to believe in his pitches first. He's got a power fastball, power breaking ball, a good cutter-slider, an occasional change-up, split, whatever you want to call it.

For us, when we got him, our front office did a really good job of targeting him as someone that had the necessary weapons and tools, and ability to get right-handed hitters out. We felt like we could help him get left-handed hitters out a little bit better to make an even more effective starter.

The buy-in came from Charlie by demonstrating to him, Here's how we think we can help you. A few more breaking balls to lefties. Get control of your fastball behind it, a little more force, carry, and the velocity came. So it's just utilizing his strengths.

I'm not sure there's a pitcher in the Big Leagues that can't learn something about how to maximize their weapons first. I applaud players that are open-minded and willing to make adjustments in their pitch usage. It's not reinventing the wheel. It's not transforming them into something that he can't be; it's making him aware of where his best weapons are and how to use them.

And Charlie Morton came and Brent Strom and Craig Bjornson and our front office, they did a great job of proving to him that it is a necessary adjustment for him. He goes out on the field and all of a sudden we see the 95, 97, we see the power curveball getting lefties out, and players will respond to success and he did.

Q. Last night there was the usual Twitter back and forth about Joe Maddon's decisions. I'm just curious as a manager, it seems that a lot of it is these late-game bullpen decisions. How much more is involved in these decisions maybe in terms of usage and who's ready and who's up to the challenge, maybe than meets the eye, and how much more complex it is than people who think it's just cut and dried?
A.J. HINCH: So a couple of things, No. 1, you learn to manage your own team; don't manage someone else's team. In speaking of how I have to go about it, process goes a long way. You know your team the best, and I try to maximize my players, put them in the situation to be successful.

I think some of the facts or details about those players is never going to be out there, then we get judged by results. So when it doesn't work out it's a public slaying on Twitter, I'm sure. And I would encourage any young manager to get off Twitter, it's not healthy.

But it's results. Let's be honest. For managers we work on process, we work on trying to put our players in the best position possible and let the players flourish, and then we get judged by results.

For me it's always tough. I never go to bed happy when we don't have success. But as long as I'm prepared and as long as I've done the necessary homework, if I have all the information, even if people that judge me don't have all the information, then I have to go to bed at night and get the sleep and get ready for the next game.

Q. You've seen how competitive the American League is. What do you see of your guys that makes you hopeful that you can get to playoffs every year?
A.J. HINCH: We're playing well right now. Obviously you're one game away from not playing well if you don't continue to play clean baseball, continue to make pitches. Obviously we've had two sensational starting pitchers go out and do their jobs. We've got the timely hit that's helped us win.

But I think we can -- obviously we have to continue to grind in this series. It's a tough ballpark to play in. Their left-hand hitters are pretty comfortable pulling the ball into that short porch.

This is obviously a very talented team that presents a lot of challenges, but so do we. We have athleticism, we play defense, we can hit the ball out of the ballpark. I think you're going to see a little bit more offense in the next couple of days if we can stay to our game plan.

But the fact that we can win in different ways, we don't just rely on one thing, gives me pretty good optimism that we'll continue to put ourselves in a position to try to win.

Q. Carlos was in here kind of lauding the contributions of Alex Cora and especially his influence on some of the younger guys. What has he brought to the table this year, and has he learned from working under you?
A.J. HINCH: He's been really good in -- I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options.

To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so.

Q. Continuing your thoughts on pitch usage. Charlie has thrown the hardest he ever has this season. He touched upon his curveball yesterday, he's used that sparingly in the past with a lot of success. What can you tell us about the increased usage of that particular pitch and the role it's played in his success this year?
A.J. HINCH: His curveball, especially against left-hand hitters has been a difference maker, just to give him a different look, a tall pitcher, different pitcher, comes from a different angle. Most guys that have a moving fastball, all of a sudden you see the ball pop up with a power break to it, it's just a different look for those guys. And it can be a free strike early in the count. It can be a put away pitch late.

And the fact that he's been able to change his direction and have a more defined direction to home plate. If you look at his driveline, if you look at his repeatable delivery, he doesn't bail out as much and have these wasteful fastballs arm side that he struggled with in the past, especially with the left-handed hitters.

If he can steal a strike with a breaking ball, if you have the ability to do both at the beginning of the at-bat, steal a strike, at the end of the bat put it away, that's a weapon you need to utilize more often.

The more success he had the more belief he had, and the more willingness he was to use it.

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