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December 11, 2018

AJ Hinch

Las Vegas, Nevada

Q. Kyle Tucker is here. We just talked to Kyle Tucker out there. I know you guys are in the market for a bat. Where do you think he's fitting in with an outfield bat, how he can get a spot on the roster?
AJ HINCH: Tuck had sort of a mediocre rise through the Minor League ranks and then got to the Big Leagues and found some difficulty just adjusting to the Big Leagues in the middle of a pennant race.

But it hasn't soured our appreciation for his talent, how much we're looking forward to his future and his potential impact. That can come as soon as Opening Day, or into the season, depending how it goes.

There's a lot of conversations going on how to improve our team. Some of it is via pitching staff. Some of it is via position players and bats. And that's going to impact guys. But we very much see him as part of the future, whether that be now or months ahead.

But the adjustments that he needs to make and the lessons that he learned in his first taste of the Big Leagues will all help him be a better player and fulfill his potential.

Q. What are you looking at him adjustment-wise, what specific?
AJ HINCH: I think he learned how he's going to have to attack different styles of pitching. That's not to say that he didn't see some of that in the Minor Leagues. He's had this consistency in maybe stumbling out of the gates at the levels and then making an adjustment and dominating the level.

We actually think the Big Leagues is going to be very similar to that, where he's gathering information, figuring out what he needs to do. His swing is good. It's his swing. He knows his timing is good. His recognition is good.

I think he learned that the Big Leagues are more consistent. Big League pitchers are more consistent at executing a game plan when they see a hole or see an opportunity to exploit.

So whether that's covering more pitches, being a little bit more adjustable, having an answer for the different sides of the field, maybe a little bit more attention to covering the whole field as opposed to being so pull conscious. Things that almost every young hitter goes through as a hitter, and he's no different.

Q. We've seen some nontraditional coaching staff hires in the game of late. Your thoughts on that? For instance, can these people bring things to the table that some of the, quote/unquote, more traditional hires wouldn't have?
AJ HINCH: Well, I remember the days where I was not necessarily the traditional hire. That's changed a little bit. I guess it all depends on your definition of traditional. I think teams are more and more interested in various backgrounds and different paths to get to different jobs in our game.

So I think there's a freshness to it. But there's also a lot of importance to maintaining the experience that other people in the game have been able to accomplish. So I still see the hiring process as being a blend of trying to find the perfect match and the perfect partner for whatever job you're seeking for as a team or as a manager or a coach or whatever.

But I think it depends on the person. I think that's more popular nowadays because of the boldness of front offices to try and find their match and ultimately the belief that you can be successful, depending on how that hire balances out, what you've got going on in your own organization.

Q. Does the voice sound different to a player when it's coming from a coach knowing it was the coach who had this information as opposed to it came down from the front office to the coach?
AJ HINCH: No, I think the days of players being spooked by where the information is coming from is probably over. We're in the era of information.

So players are more and more open to whoever delivers the message, whoever is the expert in the information. If it can help them get better. If it can help them get paid, if it can help them perform better, players are more accepting of that.

If the information is valid and useful and ultimately translated to their understanding.

Q. How do you feel about your catching situation right now after the addition of Chirinos?
AJ HINCH: I feel good about it. I think going into the offseason having lost two of three catchers that were primary catchers this season. That's a daunting task to replace that.

And we signed Chirinos, we feel comfortable that we have two Major League catchers on our roster now and a promising prospect who is likely to start the year in Triple-A in Garrett Stubbs. With all the rumors swirling around about every catcher, it's nice to have some stability, guys that have done it, some experience.

We were fortunate that our pitching coach, Brent Strom, has spent some time with Chirinos on the Japan tour. That was useful and helpful.

And 19 games a year against the Rangers where we got to see Chirinos up close and personal and see his offensive potential and the respect that he has behind the plate, and match that with Stassi's emergence as a Major League catcher, and we have a good combo.

Q. What feedback have you gotten about how Altuve's rehab has gone?
AJ HINCH: Good feedback. Been with him. Couple times I've gone down to Minute Maid, and he's down there doing his workout, Altuve is there, Lance McCullers is rehabbing as well. We have a small workout group in Houston, and I've joined them a couple different times to see them.

I'm very excited because Jose looks excited and looks pleased with where he's at in his progress. As of right now, he's not going to be delayed or we're not expecting any issues. He's still not completely over the rehab process yet. So time will tell what that means for his spring.

But as with all of our everyday players, guys that we lean on a lot, meaning Springer and Bregman and Altuve, Correa, guys that virtually play almost every game when they're healthy, I'll look to limit some of their spring at-bats because these guys just don't need that many at-bats to get ready.

But I'll pay close attention, because a couple of those guys are coming off injuries. But in December, I have no idea what that means.

Q. You saw Ohtani many times this year, and you're going to see him next year as hitter probably most of the time. What's the plan to get him out?
AJ HINCH: I'm not going to tell you our plan to get him out. I was legitimately bummed for our sport when Ohtani got hurt. He burst on the scene with a lot of attention, and he lived up to the billing. That's hard to do at this level on one side of the ball but let alone on both sides.

And when he got hurt, you know, it's unfortunate for our sport as one of our star players goes down. Even though it was a rookie season, he's worldwide, so everybody knew about him and knew his potential.

And we didn't see his bat early in the season. We happened to catch the Angels on either side of his rest days, when he pitched, and then we faced him as a pitcher and he got a few at-bats against us, had a few extra base hits, and showcased his skill. And I think we were the last team to face him as a pitcher when he was done for the season.

So what a uniquely talented young man in our game. And it's probably opening up doors for a new wave of -- a new way of thinking of players in the possibilities when guys are multitalented.

Q. The new front office obviously had a lot of success in Houston. There's still a mystery to the fans there. Is there something about [inaudible] that you can share --
AJ HINCH: The second part is always tough, if I can share.

Q. Do you recall something that you learned from that?
AJ HINCH: They're really good and certainly are going to do great things in Baltimore over the course of time. And I know them well. I work closely with both of them.

And they did a good job of coming and getting one of the best young GMs possible in Mike Elias. And Mike's filled out his cabinet, starting to fill out his cabinet with a guy like Sig.

Sig and I worked very closely together in this age of information where he helped me see things a little bit differently, strategically on the bench -- how to combine baseball instinct with baseball information and where that balance is and where that breaking point is and some of the in-game decisions are made.

They're going to be patient, but they're going to have a game plan. And certainly they have the blueprint of how this has been done before. But once they get their feet on the ground -- it's probably a rough time right now for them having just gotten started right before the Winter Meetings. But I learned a lot from them. They made me better -- they made me think about progressive baseball a little bit differently and a little more rapidly than I even anticipated when I went to the interview process.

That certainly bodes well for the future of the Orioles.

Q. That blueprint strategy, where they helped you see something differently that you [inaudible]?
AJ HINCH: I do recall it. I probably just won't tell you.

Q. What part of that blueprint do you think is easily replicable as they bring a lot of the practices to --
AJ HINCH: What do you mean?

Q. In the sense is it personnel? Is it concepts --
AJ HINCH: I think -- this is more of a broader answer. I just think when developing a plan, that has to be -- you have to combine being opportunistic but also being patient. And it comes with -- you've got to have good players to be a good organization. And they have good players sprinkled throughout their organization, and they're going to add more. So certainly the personnel side, if they can find themselves a Correa and a Bregman, that will help them.

And I know that they will do a lot to speed the process up as fast as they can, because the Orioles tradition is right up there with anybody's in baseball.

Q. Is it safe to say that McHugh probably will revert back to being a starter given the attrition and just your overall thoughts on the rotation?
AJ HINCH: The rotation, I get asked a lot about the rotation, because we lost McCullers to injury and Morton and Keuchel to free agency.

Time will tell how those gaps are filled. We do have some internal guys, including McHugh and Peacock, who have done it before, and Josh James and Valdez came up and did well. And you talk about the prospects that were in Double-A. Corbin Martin, Forrest Whitley, Cionel Perez made his Major League debut last year. Those are easy names to rattle off.

And we'll see how the postseason -- I should say the offseason goes before we kind of anoint anybody. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, pre-locks, and I expect Collin McHugh will come in as a starter, and I can easily see him being in the rotation. No decisions have to be made until we actually know our personnel come February.

Q. When you get Forrest Whitley from the Fall League, how close is he to being in the picture?
AJ HINCH: We were in the playoffs when the Fall League started, and after his first start where he struck out virtually everyone, I got a text from a scout saying: I have your starter for Sunday if you need one.

So I got great reviews on Forrest Whitley from the day that he stepped into the AFL. Stuff is elite across the board. He's got size. He's got quick twitch. He's got arm speed. He's got some feel for pitching. There's not a compliment that I didn't get from a scout or an executive or a coach that went and saw him pitch.

I spent little time around him. I know him a little bit and I look forward to his first Big League camp because we haven't totally got our hands on him as a Major League staff yet. But I hear he's pretty good.

Q. Saw a viral video this morning throwing 110 miles with a running start?
AJ HINCH: We don't get to throw it from that distance or don't get a running start. Other than that, it was great.

Q. Diaz, Spring Training, what positions do you plan to expose him to in Spring Training?
AJ HINCH: First second, short, third and left. He'll play all around the field. He's got to get a glove for everything. He knows that. He's done a little bit of that. Maybe first base the least, or not at all. But might as well try it out.

And we'll mix and match him. I told him the day we got him that it was important for him to have that versatility. He grades out at A plus across the board when it comes to willingness to do whatever it takes.

And he's going to get a lot of at-bats and he's going to play around the field, and we hope our guys stay healthy. But I thought it was a great addition to our guys.

Q. Do you envision moving Yuli around in spring training like you wanted to last year?
AJ HINCH: A little bit. The local guys know. I believe in versatility as much as any manager in baseball. So we have to prepare for the unexpected. So I think Yuli will move around the field. I think Diaz will move around the field. Bregman will play multiple positions.

Infield-wise, really Jose and Carlos will be the only two that don't move around the field.

Q. DH as far as -- I know you might ask somebody, but where do you think the at-bats come from right now mostly?
AJ HINCH: I don't know. I don't know right now. Tyler White made great strides last year. I do like moving the DH around a little bit if the roster is what it is right now. But it's early in the offseason to know. But if the season started today, it would be some combination of Whitey and Kemp and our position players.

Q. Relievers, generally, in their year-to-year volatility, why do you think that happens and what challenge does that possess in trying to plan a bullpen?
AJ HINCH: Being a relief pitcher is a little thankless. It's very tough. You're only brought in to either put out a fire or face some of the best hitters in the age of matchups. We think we have it perfectly mapped out to come up and face some of the scariest hitters with the game on the line.

And there's very small margin for error and I think a little bit of luck involved in the bullpen that in certain situations, certain hitters and when it comes to performance, you don't have as many innings to make up for a bad stretch. So as a reliever, if you have a bad stretch, you're doomed for a while, in order to get your career numbers back to norm.

I don't think we can accurately predict it, so I don't know that you can necessarily plan for it other than believe and trust in your guys. If you see something differently, it's the beauty of having all the data that we have.

If their stuff is different, if their stride direction is different or if their release point is different, then we probably need to make an adjustment. Hopefully sooner than their performance dictates.

Q. Empathy, how important is that for a manager, and how do you acquire it when the clubhouse is so diverse?
AJ HINCH: I think it's important. I think that and relatability is important for today's players. I think, as a manager, if you continue to respect and realize how tough the game is nowadays, you know -- I think we all think we've figured out the game a little bit more than maybe we even have, but to never lose that grasp of respect in how difficult the game is allows you to understand the failure rate of our game and empathize with players that have so many different things that they're dealing with and the pressure they have, the money that's at stake, the opportunities that comes and go.

The volatility of that back end of your roster, the health issues. I mean, there's a lot of things that come up in a player's daily life or career that will require the manager to understand fully if they're going to get the most out of their players. But I think it begins and ends with a respect for how tough the game is.

Q. [Inaudible]?
AJ HINCH: Maybe. I get involved as much as our guys want me to. There aren't very many secrets in the game.

You guys might think there's more secrets, and there's not. Players talk to players, and it's amazing what Chirinos knew about me and our coaching staff and our organization before he decided to come here. That didn't have anything to do with me. He did his own due diligence before he signed here. And the same goes for a guy you trade for. They do their homework, too.

And so you're always constantly making a phone call, having a breakfast, lending a helping hand as a manager, because another thing you have to do with players, you've got to tell them where they stand. You have to make a connection with them immediately and begin the process of the relationship to get the most out of them.

And sometimes that comes before they're signed, they're traded for. Sometimes it comes afterwards. But relationship is important.

Q. What advice would you give to this kind of next set of first-year managers or the first-year managers with little or no managing experience about how to kind of handle and survive that first year on the bench?
AJ HINCH: If you win the World Series, like the Red Sox did, that's the best advice I can give you.

I think you've got to be yourself. You've got to be authentic in this job. And it doesn't mean you have to be the way I was as a first-time manager or the way Craig Counsell was or Alex Cora or Aaron Boone. Now we're sprinkled across, a lot of us, that didn't have experience when we got our first jobs. But you've got to be yourself.

Players like authenticity. They like respect. They like communication. They like your understanding of what it takes to be today's player.

You've got to be relatable to a large group of men in a clubhouse that's largely unpredictable. Because they come from everywhere, and they all have goals and they all want to be the best version of themselves. And if you want that out of your players, you better be the best version of yourself. In my opinion, the best version of yourself is the authentic one.

Q. Do you feel at all that the players even care about the experience or lack thereof of, like, when you took over?
AJ HINCH: It depends. I mean, obviously players will always respect the guys that played the game.

Q. I'm talking more managerial experience, though.
AJ HINCH: Managerial experience, they'll test you. They want to know not just what you know, but how real you are, how ready are you for the leadership role of the manager.

We've seen some bumps in the roads. First-time managers, I had them, other guys had them. It's not as easy as some people make it look. You've got to be vulnerable. You've got to admit your mistakes and connect with players and be bold based on your processes, but players respect consistency.

They respect the passion that you show, the effort that you put in, the preparation you put in.

It depends on the guy. But I think you can earn their respect.

Q. The past couple of weeks maybe altering or banning the way teams can shift defensively, where do you fall on that?
AJ HINCH: Where do you think I fall on that one (laughter)? You know what, I respect the Commissioner's view and his wish for more offense. And I also sort of appreciate the humor of Joey Gallo who wants it for Christmas.

But it's tough. I think our game is built around a lot of things. And it's funny, change is not necessarily the strength of our game. And when things changed toward the shift a little bit, we fought it, and now we're going to change unshifting if that's the case. But we'll play by the rules whatever we're told to.

I'm not sure -- I'm convinced that unshifting however many feet that we have, or I've heard people talk about the depths of the infield or where we play our second baseman or what the rules are going to apply, is that going to produce more batting average? Maybe. More runs? Debatable. A more energized and entertaining game? I doubt it.

Q. Like you said [inaudible] a lot of teams not in that position gone to the bullpen [inaudible] the Rays [inaudible] have some success. What's your thought on that at this point, and do you think we'll see more ripples throughout the game this year just with the [inaudible]?
AJ HINCH: I like it as a creative way to try to win Today's Game. I think it's a strategy. If your team fits -- to me you have to manage your team based on the personnel you have and what your best opportunity to win today's game is.

If that includes using nine pitchers, then you can do that. It does impact Games 2, 3, 4, and 5 of that week. We saw the Rays be very, very successful.

Now, some of that success, in my opinion, was because they had the Cy Young Award winner in Blake Snell. And him having that kind of season with those kinds of innings probably helped the opener concept. I think you'd have a hard time having the opener in multiple spots in your rotation if you don't have some stable horses that are providing the innings for the rest periods for the pitchers that are pitching in those opener games.

But as we saw in the playoffs, the playoffs are starting to shrink and the starters are going less and less innings as we shift, no pun intended, as we shift more towards the matchup style of playoff games.

It's hard. It's hard to combat -- when the hitters don't like it, it probably means it's a pretty good strategy.

Q. We had Luis Valbuen passed away, Jose and he were close, Marwin. Have you had a chance to talk to them? How are they doing?
AJ HINCH: Jose's been out of town. But Marwin and I exchanged some texts, Javier Bracamonte was in Venezuela when it happened.

It's hard to put into words when something like this happens. It's sad. I loved Luis, and he was great for our team, great for our players. Everybody loved his smile, the bat flips, the general joy that he brought to the clubhouse every day.

And like many others, I was just in disbelief that it happened. Immediately the question is why, and you talk to your kids about seatbelts and you just start to -- you're all over the place with sadness and sorrow because -- he and Jose Castillo, who I did not know, sad just the same, but it hit our clubhouse very hard. And I saw all of our players' reactions, social media, and very sad day.

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