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October 17, 2018

AJ Hinch

Houston, Texas - pregame 4

THE MODERATOR: Questions for A.J. Hinch.

Q. Could you just run down the advantages of having Alex lead off?
A.J. HINCH: You know, I can't wait for him to hit first. And really it's tough because George is doing everything you ask out of the leadoff spot. It had nothing to do with him. It's a different look for our lineup; he gets the most at-bats. He has Springer behind him.

I'm not sure if that changes their approach with him -- maybe in the first at-bat they have to go after him a little bit. But why not? I think the first three guys are pretty interchangeable.

If Jose was running a little bit better I might have put him in the lead-off spot and sandwiched Bregman with Springer. There's so many combos I could do. Generally I haven't done that. I've left George at the top. But we'll do it a little bit different, give it a little different look. Maybe they have to game plan a little differently, we'll have to see.

Q. The matter-of-fact way that your guys approach losses in the playoffs and quickly turning the page, is that just about the players themselves individually or is that something organizationally that you guys instill in your team?
A.J. HINCH: You don't have any choice this time of year. You've got to play the next day and you've got to play quickly. You might have an off day here or there. But you were doing a total disservice to the postseason and to your club if you bring that baggage the next day. We don't know any other way.

In my time here we've been in the playoffs three out of the four years, and maybe that experience has fostered that a little bit. It's certainly the culture we have. Our players are all on board.

I'd be significantly disappointed if our guys were bringing a loss into today. Because today is the most important day of the year. And then I'm going to say the same thing tomorrow.

Q. Two questions about Yuli. What do you think has allowed him to be as consistent as he has since coming over from Cuba? And he's only 34, he has a couple of more years on his contract. What have you seen that suggests to you that he might continue being steady for a couple more years?
A.J. HINCH: Yuli is very experienced. And we see it with guys that come in the middle to latter parts of their professional careers. A lot of guys from Japan, guys from different countries, when they join us they're not really rookies, they're first-timers when it comes to the Big Leagues. So Yuli's been through some of the highest pressure-packed baseball before he got here.

He was the best international player in Cuba for a number of years. He was a high-profile guy. So when he got here he didn't lack confidence, he didn't lack experience, he didn't lack really anything other than comfort in our country and comfort in the major leagues.

What I've seen from him is great adjustments. We asked him -- he played shortstop and third base and second base in his career -- and we asked him to go to first base because it fit on our team.

I walked him work tirelessly to get better at it. Ironically with Alex Cora as the manager now -- when he was the bench coach here and it's continued with Joe Espada and Alex Cintron -- that openness shows me a lot about his character and his competitiveness and a lot about the fact he'll do anything.

As far as moving forward, he's a really good player. He's calm in the big moments. He hits well with runners in scoring position. He hits the ball as well as anyone on our team and really does a good job navigating around the bases. He's not as fast as he used to be and he's aging and things like that. But because of his baseball smarts and his IQ, his baseball feel, I think he can play well past his contract.

Q. Obviously a lot has been made of the Astros in play -- who was looking into the Red Sox dugout. What do you view as the state of the game when it comes to the use of teams using technology to kind of examine the practices of other teams? Do you think that the game is in a healthy state with regards to mutual --
A.J. HINCH: I think there's some unintended consequences that come with the advancement of technology. And I certainly think it's a league-wide conversation that needs to happen in time. I mean, it's happening right now during a really important series and I just think it's bigger than us. It's bigger than any team. It's bigger than any series. It needs to be corralled because of the state of the concern over it.

Obviously, you know, I'm sure it's going to be addressed. I know Major League Baseball had their statement. I know our GM, Jeff Luhnow, had his brief media session, and they speak for the situation as of right now. But the game is so ultra competitive and there's so small margins between really good teams and really good players and there's a lot at stake. So we do have to find a healthy place for everyone to be comfortable moving forward competitively because it's a bigger topic than even one instance.

Q. When you hear that some teams think that you guys are really good at that, picking up signs, in whatever fashion, do you take that as a compliment or do you not like to hear that?
A.J. HINCH: Today I don't feel like it's a compliment. (Laughter) I think you always have to be cognizant of it. I think the competitive edges nowadays are so narrow. You're trying to find everything you can. And whether that's pitch tipping, pitch sequencing, changing your signs, changing your location of your defenders -- again, this is a bigger topic that's going to take a lot more time than an overnight story and concern and people's curiosities.

That's why I say it's league-wide. It's a conversation that's been had largely behind the scenes as far as when a guy hits the ball well, was I doing something with my glove, was I -- did they have the signs. Obviously they try to corral the visits to the mound which were out of control last year in the World Series to now. Even in these playoffs you're seeing a lot of teams going down to one and two visits left before the game ends. In the regular season you don't see that as much.

But I think there is a paranoia about what you're doing competitively to try to be your best. And when teams are curious about us or we're curious about other teams, it's largely a distraction away from the best part of the game, which is on the field with the players.

Q. Do you think it's affecting the product at all, in terms of like the pace of the games, the cross-up fastballs --
A.J. HINCH: It feels like it slows it down. And we utilize multiple signs with nobody on base. Other teams do that as well. We ask a lot out of our catchers. We have 12, 13, sometimes 14 pitchers on a roster that can all have different signs and different sequences. That's why you see catchers go to the mound all the time in between innings when it's allowed, when a new pitcher comes in.

So it's very complicated, and, again, you know the games that it affects are the games where we see a lot of those visits and a lot of the cross-ups, the balls to the back stop, the balls being dropped -- things that I don't know that you can put your fingerprint on it as across the board in every game in 15 games a night for Major League Baseball. But the games you feel it, you can blame it on that sometimes.

Q. Obviously Major League Baseball cleared you of any wrongdoing, your GM already spoke about it. But does it concern you that there could be this perception of you guys cheating even though the focus should be on what you're accomplishing on the field?
A.J. HINCH: Not tonight, because it's Game 4. We've got to get our minds towards the game on the field and the competition between us and the Red Sox. We're trying to win a series here and advance to the World Series.

So that's why I say it's a bigger conversation over time. I don't think it's something that's going to solve itself in 24 hours. And we're not going to focus on it in our clubhouse. And I'm not going to talk up to our team about it. We're not going to get to Red Sox, 7:39, like I told you yesterday, we'll be ready to play.

Q. Justin Verlander recently talked about preparing for the second half of his career, which if you do the math is kind of scary. Do you see him as being one of those guys who could pitch well into his 40s? And if so what is it about his mindset, preparation, mechanics that would allow you to think that?
A.J. HINCH: I think his body has to hold up and his arm has to hold up. His mind will be able to do whatever he wants to do. He evolves with the game.

He's a different pitcher than even what we saw 12 months ago competing against him to when we traded for him. He's continuing to evolve and that's in his favor when you talk about playing -- when your stuff might change. Right now he still feels like in his prime because he's still throwing the ball to 95 to 98 miles an hour. He's still got both breaking balls. He still fights himself with the changeup.

His approach is the same right now. The adjustment for him, I think this is why his mind will allow it, is what happens when he starts throwing 92. What happens when the breaking ball isn't quite as sharp and he's got to set up hitters differently? The fact that he has the mind -- if his body holds up, he can pitch, and he's always been able to pitch because of how smart he is, how much he prepares.

Now he needs to get a little lucky with his health to be able to log the innings that he does with the intensity that he does for him to accomplish that. But I'm not going to be the guy that doubts him, I'll tell you that.

Q. You're always talking about the personalities on this team. What has impressed you the most about Charlie and how he's been able to rise to the occasion at this point in his career and these big moments for you, and another one tonight?
A.J. HINCH: No, this is a big start for him. And Charlie bears a lot of responsibility on himself. He really cares and he wants to do well for others. And, again, we were all happy for each other after Game 7 of the World Series. I've never seen a reaction by an entire group of athletes and families that were so thrilled for Charlie to be the front and center guy that got the last out, the 27th out of the World Series. And that speaks well to his character and how much people love him.

His approach is awesome. He's the same every day. He's a curious guy. He's got a dry sense of humor. But more than anything he's nasty on the mound. He's got a competitive edge to him.

He's so selfless. He'll be prepared. I think it will help him in these moments because he's able to channel it all and bear the responsibility of being the starting pitcher in these huge games or the closer, last year, in a couple of games.

It's like my first reaction when you said Charlie Morton, I smiled. And most people that cover him or most people that are around him or his teammates that are with him every day have the same reaction as soon as he gets into a room.

Q. When something like this happens with an employee and the spying and whatever, I think people automatically wonder how far did this go, how many people knew about it. Was it something you were aware of? Should people assume it an organizational choice to have this guy do what he was doing?
A.J. HINCH: I was briefed about it yesterday. And I was surprised. So I didn't know. I don't know him. I don't know him. I've seen him before. I've seen him around. It's not about this kid. I was unaware.

So I think there's a lot of -- for me, there's a lot of ultra focus this time of year on what you're doing. But to me, I'm sure Jeff addressed whatever the process was or however it came about, competitively on the field we had no idea.


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