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October 5, 2019

AJ Hinch

Houston, Texas - pregame 2

Q. A.J., you talked about Tucker the other day. What went into starting him tonight and specifically against a lefty?
A.J. HINCH: I think he's earned it. We've been using him in a different rotation, different ways throughout the month of September. He's swung the bat really well. I think a lot of our guys expected him to be utilized. He's on this roster for a reason. He's very impactful. He swung the bat extremely well against lefties in September. If you look up his numbers, his at-bats, the hard contacts, the tough at-bats that he had, I think he's earned it. He needs to be utilized because he can impact the game.

The other part of that is I don't know how long Snell's going to pitch. I know he's on a shorter pitch count, maybe. I'll believe it when I see it. But you never know what's going to happen after that with the way they match up their pens, have another left-handed bat at the bottom of the order, maybe that comes to our advantage at some point during the game and gives them something to think about.

Q. You guys were obviously excited with Brantley joining this team in the off-season and you liked him a lot then. After spending the whole regular season with him and getting to this point, how has your opinion changed about him? What else have you learned about him? How valuable is he right now?
A.J. HINCH: He's extremely valuable in all aspects of our team. He's a balanced person. He's a balanced player. He posts every day. I think he's a great influence for our guys. I think he's really found a way to lead without being the most vocal guy, and people still look at him.

I guess I learned a little bit of the behind-the-scenes stuff that I didn't know about. I had a ton of respect for him before he became an Astro because he just lived across the way. You see how he operates and how in control he is of his at-bats.

I know we called him Uncle Mike around here. He's not old enough to be their uncle, but there's a calmness about him that just makes him attractive to everyone from staff to players to his influence.

He's performed very well. I know he had a little bit of a rough patch at the end of the year, but he's come out of it quite nicely. He's a huge part of our team.

Q. Keeping with the Michael Brantley theme. We asked him a while ago about the Uncle Mike, how George and Reddick tease him about it. They showed up a while ago to watch him doing his thing. With the camaraderie that's developed around him with his teammates.
A.J. HINCH: One of the biggest moments of the year for us is he hit a walk-off home run about a month ago and he flipped his bat about a foot up in the air. That was really, really cool for our guys. That's about as much expression as you're going to get for us. To see him have so much respect from his teammates.

And George has turned into his best friend and Reddick's locker is right down with them. They have incredible outfield camaraderie. Those guys stick together quite a bit.

Across the board, Mike doesn't say a lot. But when he says something or when he has some advice for any of our guys, I see all of our hitters go through him to talk about things. I think he's been tremendous for Yordan Alvarez as a left-handed hitter in the middle of the order specifically against these left-handed pitchers we put these guys up against.

If I could ask all our hitters to hit like Mike, it would be a pretty good group.

Q. A.J. what did you see out of Ryan Pressly yesterday? Obviously, he gave up a few runs. Was it pitch sequence, was it something different or just a simple fact that sometimes you're going to come out and get hit a little bit?
A.J. HINCH: I think we're facing a pretty good team. I don't look too hard this time of year. Everyone is here for a reason. He may have been a little rusty. It's a little bit of everything. I think he threw a lot of curveballs to Wendle that got him in trouble. Throwing the same pitch over and over again. Sogard swung at a pitch he rarely swings at first pitch, gets a single. Pham hits a hopper to Bregman. Add that up and it turned into a couple runs.

He's doing fine. I'm the last guy that's going to lose confidence in Ryan Pressly. He's going to get the ball again when we need him.

Q. A.J., I know you're not one to let things go without putting a lot of thought into it anyway. Does your schedule change or your approach change in terms of the postseason, you individually? Do you sleep a couple hours less? Do you wake up earlier? Kind of give me an idea.
A.J. HINCH: My routine is I have to do a lot more of this on a more scheduled basis. I do an hour-plus of media every day of a postseason game. It's not something I do regular season.

I still do the same. Somewhat of a similar thing. We're anxious to get to the ballpark every day, even more so. I'm an early-to-the-ballpark type manager. I like to be here. I like to be prepared. I like to have a little bit of time to myself. I like to exercise, eat, all that same stuff.

My routine isn't a ton different, but you have to be aware of taking care of yourself in this job. But yet, also, I never feel prepared. As much as I do, I will always have a sense of urgency to do a little bit more.

I've watched about as much Tampa video as I possibly can. I was just watching the Twins and the Yankees. I don't have an off button, specifically, in the month of October.

Q. One of the things you emphasized in spring training was being aggressive on the bases and in all facets. How happy were you with that throughout the regular season? Is it harder to do in the playoffs because everything is so magnified?
A.J. HINCH: I think it's a love/hate relationship with the aggressiveness on the bases because I hate the outs and I love the safe calls. But you have to play aggressively, and you can't play careful. You can't be overly concerned with what the negative outcome can be. It's hard to do that.

Nowadays, it's funny, I think the Rays tried seven or eight stolen bases against us during the regular season. If I said that five years ago, that would not be very many. I say that now and it's like they're running all over us.

The same thing goes for yesterday. The fact that we tried a couple times, we were successful, makes it feel like a little bit bigger deal nowadays because the industry doesn't run as much.

I like us to be aggressive. I like us -- 90 feet matters. It matters the most in October when you get into a runner in scoring position and that sense of urgency on both -- in both dugouts is like the scoreboard can change. When the scoreboard changes in October, it's a real feeling of what the hell's -- what's going on? How are we going to overcome this?

So I like pressure. I like making them make plays. And that comes with a little bit of risk. And yesterday, when it works out for us, it's great. I assume they're going to look at that a little bit more today, and they have a left-handed pitcher which changes your thought process a little bit.

But 90 feet matters. If you can steal it, all the better.

Q. A.J., besides the fact that they're just really good hitters, what do your guys do to limit the strikeouts in this age of so many strikeouts? It's been a characteristic here for three years or so.
A.J. HINCH: The hitters and their quality of hitters that we have factors in the most. The teams that we've had in the last five years, couple of them have been some swing and miss, and it's not like we approve of the swing and miss on those teams and not on these teams.

The approach matters. We swing at pitches we're supposed to hit, and selectiveness is very important. But you have to be aggressive to get pitches inside the strike zone. It starts with knowledge of the strike zone and then the quality of the hitter.

But I think if you can be a relentless team, if you can continue to put pressure on the -- contact's your friend a lot in the game. We don't talk about that a lot because we sensationalize the homer. We love the homer. We love the extra base hit. We do want OPS. But sometimes, contact is your best friend.

When you learn the pitches you can make the most contact on with the highest strength of contact and hit the ball as hard as you can, as far as you can, that bodes well for decision making.

So I like that we're a tough team to get through in general, but I like it even more that we need the pitcher to be good. We need the defense to be good. You've got to make plays against us to beat us. That equals a really good team.

Q. Have you noticed anything about Brantley specifically, how he's able to do that so well?
A.J. HINCH: Pitch recognition is huge for Brantley. His balance in the pitch recognition is elite. We have two of the top, over the lost couple years, two of the top guys of making contact when they swing. When he chooses to swing, he's going to make contact. Sometimes it's a foul ball, sometimes it's in play. But he doesn't miss very often. He doesn't chase a lot.

As a manager, you always want to defend your players. When Michael Brantley or Alex Bregman argue with the umpire after a strike three call or a strike two call or a strike one call, I believe them. They're right.

And not to say the other guys aren't, but that comes with that confidence that they know the strike zone.

Q. Piggybacking off that just a little bit, George kind of seems like the opposite of Brantley in kind of approach and offensive characteristics. How have you seen Michael, though, come in and mentor George and kind of maybe help his maturation at the plate?
A.J. HINCH: I think George, over the last five years I've been here, has probably matured and evolved maybe the most. And some of that is just natural baseball development. Some of that is a couple of influences along the way. George just figuring himself out as a player.

But Mike can get George to do just about anything. I think he helped him with his routine. He helped him with his game prep. I think he helped him with overcoming any sort of struggles or any sort of miss. I mean, George is a very, you know, emotional player. He plays with a ton of edge and energy and expects a lot out of himself.

I think Mike has created a little bit more of an even-keel approach for George that's done well for him over 162 games. But they're good for each other. I think George brings out a little bit of Mike's personality behind the scenes.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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