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October 4, 2019

AJ Hinch

Houston, Texas - pregame 1

Q. A.J., can you just talk about some of the decisions that went into finalizing your roster?
A.J. HINCH: Those are always tough, and we spent a lot of time on 14 position players, versus 13. We spent a lot of time on which pitchers within that group. We had a lot of guys who deserved to be on this roster.

For different reasons, we decided to keep some of our veteran guys. We decided to keep our length, both Miley and Urquidy are going to be in the bullpen for the first couple of games, and we'll decide what we're going to do if there's a game 4.

We had some conversations about the bench, you know, Kyle Tucker's emergence in September was big for us. Myles Straw and Jake Marisnick. Although sort of duplicate skill sets in how I've used them, are both really good weapons in winning games.

And then, obviously, there's guys that have been here over the last couple of seasons like Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock and Bryan Abreu who made a tremendous impression, left off the roster out of matchup or for Peacock, it was his readiness after coming off the injured list. Just tough conversations to have, good problems to have when you have too many players that you want to include.

This is the matchup we think matches up best with the Rays.

Q. Can you talk about the things Tucker brings beyond hitting?
A.J. HINCH: Tucker has done a great job of taking feedback and becoming a threat for us to either start a game, come off the bench as a left-handed bat to face some pitching or really the surprise for me is how aggressive he was on the bases during the month of September.

He's probably the most bold stolen base threat that we've had, along with Myles and Jake. But he could be a complete player. And having that as a weapon, if we needed to deploy it, was huge for us on this playoff roster.

And he earned it. He came up in September, we gave him specific things that we felt like he needed to do to impact an October roster and he did everything.

Q. A.J., your team's played so many big playoff games over the last few years. Going up against a team that hasn't been there that much, how much is that a factor in this five-game series?
A.J. HINCH: I don't think it's much of a factor just because in a sense of like us versus the Rays, the Rays are going to be ready to play. This is not an environment that playoff baseball, they've already played one elimination game. So that, you know, they have experience. The guys that haven't been there, they also have a number of guys and a great leader that is going to get them ready to play.

Our comfort, being in the playoffs and our comfort being in huge games, we certainly like the fact that we've been there before, and we've done this before, and the majority of our roster has some playoff experience. But I'm not going to take it too much for granted that all of a sudden there's some sort of competitive advantage.

I think the advantages are going to play out on the field and not psychologically who's been there, who hasn't been.

Q. A.J., I'm sorry if you covered this a little bit, speak to what Kyle Tucker has done, why he's on the roster and what he could --
A.J. HINCH: Kyle, again, Kyle is a player who can do a lot of things for us to help us win. And he came up in September after a very successful season in the minors, and he had to wait a long time to get his opportunity. He took a lot of feedback from us and was very, very open to some of the changes that we wanted him to make, and some of the things he needed to do to adjust his second opportunity in the big leagues. He had a rough first stretch last year, spent most of the season in the minors.

I think he can help us on the bases. I think he can help us as a bat off the bench. He may get a start. He handled left-handed pitching very well in September. That's something, given -- seeing how their roster is with Blake Snell starting tomorrow and the three relievers in the pen, you know, Kyle's going to factor in this series somehow.

Q. JV is fired up for spring training start. We know he's fired up. Anything anecdotally that you can talk to him about, compared to today, as to maybe the regular season.
A.J. HINCH: You want me to talk to JV on his start day? I think for JV, the edge that he brings and it starts and ends with his preparation. I think reminding him to enjoy this, just having some conversations in the outfield over the last couple of days and his mind is always going. That's part of -- a part of why he's really good is he never, he never lets himself be content or rest.

But I do want him to enjoy the opportunity that's ahead. And he will. So I think he will be pretty fired up. He will spend hours upon hours and he already has, preparing for every situation.

He'll ask for the lineup from the minute he wakes up until he gets to the first pitch. He'll be obsessed with the pregame introductions that we don't delay his -- and the Anthem, to make sure we don't delay his preparations. This guy is incredibly consistent and he's done it every start. This is not just because it's game 1 of the Division Series. It's because he gets the ball in a game and he gets to start and he prepares the same.

Q. A.J., what puts Verlander and Cole on such a different plane from the rest of the league this year? Also, what makes them kind of still at their peak even after all the innings, whereas a lot of teams just do the less is more?
A.J. HINCH: The innings part of it, I can answer. We had a pretty direct strategy with trying to make sure we stayed consistent throughout the year and not have these spikes of 120 pitches and then try to make up with some sort of even non-research-oriented -- like 80 pitches. It must be better, because less is better. That's not necessarily the case. Then JV goes out and throws a no-hitter. I had to leave him in the game. Didn't have a choice.

But the way that they prepare for every start is remarkable. Obviously, their stuff across the board is really elite. They have the swing-and-miss fast balls. They have the off-speed they can throw at any time. They have an uncanny ability to alter their game plan. You can't just game plan against JV as if he's going to throw high fastballs and late-in-the-count breaking balls. He's unpredictable.

Gerrit, even more so, will go to areas that you're not expecting. He's a good reader of swings. He's very good at adapting his game plan based on how he feels versus what the hitter's doing.

That continually evolving, in-game, in-season at this point in junctures of each of their careers sets them apart from any pitchers I've been around. There's a lot of stubborn people in our game. I don't care if it's stubborn manager, stubborn players. They're stubborn with finding new ways to be elite and not just fall into the trap of, This is what I do and this is how I win.

There's an extra layer of adaptability that's second to none.

Q. A.J., obviously, Charlie won't pitch here, but you spoke so glowingly of him when the Rays were here in August. What do you find of the dynamic of him being in the playoffs?
A.J. HINCH: One of the best parts, I was proud that the Rays got to the wildcard game because we didn't have to face Charlie twice. We don't love facing Charlie, despite the game that we had against him. If I could ask the Rays to put a tribute video up right before he warms up, that would be really, really special for me.

But I love Charlie. And everything that he's about. And I routinely text with him to check on him and his family. It's weird, still weird to see him across the way. It's still weird to see him in a uniform, especially in this building at this time of the year.

I'm proud of how he's handled it all and how healthy, he's been able to maintain his health, and pitch an entire season and then one of the most important games for them in their season, the wildcard. But somehow, you have to kind of get away from that emotion and go out and try to beat him. We'll do that in game 3.

Everybody has a better day when they cross paths with Charlie Morton. I think everybody in this room would agree. Everybody in our room would agree. Everybody across the way. But I also think we showed pretty well that we can set that, compartmentalize that a little bit and try to beat him.

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