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October 6, 2018

AJ Hinch

Houston, Texas - pregame 2

Q. How McCullers has evolved from one of your key starters now, we saw yesterday at a huge spot in the game. Just how has that development impacted your bullpen and decisions you're going to be making and how you use people from now on?
A.J. HINCH: It's big because he's such a weapon. And I know oftentimes during the season we fall into these routines and what you expect out of your guys, and then chaos hits in the postseason and you're not quite sure when you're going to use guys. Some guys can adapt to that. Some guys can't.

So he's one of the guys that really can take the ball at any point and seems to have adjusted to the unknown of the bullpen even faster than we could have expected.

He's a shutdown pitcher, and I say that because it could be in the first inning when he starts or in a relief inning like we saw yesterday. I just love his demeanor. I love his poise. I love his competitiveness. Ultimately, I love his pitches, which is why he's going to get important innings.

Him being healthy and in the back of the bullpen somewhere can change how I use other players. I can deploy Pressly at a moment's notice. I can use Osuna aggressively. I can use any pitcher in our bullpen knowing that Lance can pick up the outs that are left if I have to go early.

Q. How much have you enjoyed watching Tony Kemp develop, and what does he bring to your team?
A.J. HINCH: You know, I've enjoyed it because, as a manager, you try to pull the most out of your players that you can. You can say all you want, but your actions will be what the players feed off of. So when you tell a guy, Hey, you're going to get an opportunity, you'd better give it to them. And this season was the first season he's gotten a real opportunity after a couple of stints briefly.

He never really got into the mix of usage and playing time, and then he's provided a great spark. He's one of the best hitters at turning the lineup over in all of the big leagues.

So he brings a lot of life. He brings a lot of personality. He brings a lot of good at-bats. He's versatile. He's got kind of the attractive quality of putting up a really good at-bat and getting on base when you need it the most. He brings a lot to our team.

And I can play him a lot. I can play him a little. I get the same attitude, the same approach, the same smile, the same appreciation for being on this team. And I think that's grown over time because this is his first stint of not having to take the news of going down to AAA and waiting his turn. His turn came up this year, he took advantage of it, and he's on a playoff roster for a reason.

Q. If the results aren't necessarily there but you see positive development within a player, do you share evaluations with them? Speaking of Correa yesterday and the positive at-bats but not getting a hit.
A.J. HINCH: For Carlos?

Q. Yeah.
A.J. HINCH: The results often drive people's room temperature for believing where players are. I think the process part of it is what we try to focus on. It's a really -- the talent pool is so together when it comes to these good playoff teams. So you're not always going to get the results you want. So you've got to put yourself in a good position to have success.

Carlos can contribute in a lot of different ways. He's not necessarily in the middle of our batting order anymore or in the middle of everything we're doing offensively, but he can be, and he can offer other things. The plays he made on defense, the presence at the bottom of the order, I still don't think -- I don't care what the numbers tell you. They're not going to be completely comfortable with him coming up to bat because he can, quote-unquote, "break out" at any point.

The line drive to right field yesterday, the good solid contact to the right side, the long at-bat that he had, even on the bat he punched out. He's a pretty good player. You lose track of that if you get too caught up in whatever numbers you look at. And I like the presence that he has, and I think he's going to come up in a big spot and get a big hit for us at some point in this series.

Q. Gurriel is in a little bit of a rut right after the All-Star break. What did you do to see him come out of that, and what makes him such a consistent hitter?
A.J. HINCH: At the beginning of the season, I'm not sure there's anybody in baseball you wanted with a runner in scoring position more than him. His bat-to-ball skills, barrel contact, there's not a pitch he can't cover, 99 at his neck to a breaking ball near the bottom of the zone. We've seen him hit it all and do it all.

Where he got into a rut during the season, he started getting into swing mode from the on-deck circle and putting the ball in play no matter where the pitch was in the first pitch or second pitch of the at-bat.

As his at-bats have gotten longer, he'll never be confused for a patient hitter, but he can be, and he's a threatening hitter when he gets up to bat because the pitcher has to worry about him from the very first pitch on.

I think he does have a calm heartbeat. He does have a demeanor that is awesome in those moments. But it's the ball in play, it's going to get hard. He does hit the ball low most of the time. He's a professional hitter that has more experience than his Major League service time. I think that can't be overstated.

Q. A.J., with Tyler White, how much did the up-and-down nature of his career maybe shape him as a player? And how important was he to you guys during especially the second half?
A.J. HINCH: He's had to fight for everything. He wasn't on a lot of top prospect lists. He wasn't drafted high. He wasn't a guy where you clear ways for him to be on your team or for opportunities. He's had to hit his way to opportunity. He got a little bit of opportunity, and then he needed to hit more and he needed to hit more and he needed to find a way to stick in the big leagues.

He even started playing around the field a little bit because he got tired of hearing the versatility card being played where you need to -- you've got to do something other than play first base. His emergence came at a perfect time. We had other guys on our team that weren't hitting. He became one of the most productive hitters out of the DH spot on our team and around the league, and it became -- it just came at the perfect time for us and the perfect time for him.

You give a guy opportunity and he takes it and makes you want to give more opportunity to him. He's been on a different path since the beginning of his time. He's probably never been appreciated to the level at which he should because of the at-bat quality that he has.

Whether it's me or the organization that stuck with him, it's mostly been about him being able to handle the disappointment of going up and down, and then when he got the opportunity, don't miss it.

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