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December 8, 2009

AJ Hinch


Q. A.J., there's been reports of a possible three-way deal; can you comment at all on where that stands?
A.J. HINCH: Well, I think the Winter Meetings are unique in obviously that so many rumors float around. Some more true than others.
But, you know, I can't comment on other teams' players and the specific trades that are going on other than to say, we are, you know, doing everything we can to make our team better. We just went through a very rough season, and so for us to turn down any way to make our team better would be irresponsible.
So we are looking into a lot of different things. We are certainly, like everybody, trying to find that little niche that makes us better.

Q. Is this something that came about here? Did you just find out about it, or are you talking to teams prior to coming?
A.J. HINCH: Our planning, unfortunately, we had the month of October to start our planning, which, you know, while other teams are playing, we get a little bit of a head start on our next season planning.
So really from day one of the off-season, we have been turning over every rock we can. I mean, I know there's not a manager in the league who wouldn't want to upgrade their starting pitching, bullpen. You can go into -- everybody is trying to add a bat.
It's just a matter of how things fit your roster. But we have talked to teams since day one in October.

Q. Is acquiring a young starting pitcher a priority in those discussions?
A.J. HINCH: You know, I think our rotation, we traded Garland in September, or July/August -- in August, and then Davis walked as a free agent. So there were some clear holes that we were going to need some innings to fill. That's why we are looking at starting pitching all around.
But we, over the course of the last couple of years and through Josh's leadership as a GM, we have always had pretty good starting pitching. Even last year through, a rough year, our starting pitching ranked pretty high up there in quality starts and innings pitched.
I think we will always strive to be that team that has good starting pitching. When we returned Brandon Webb, that's a significant upgrade, and it makes me very happy as a manager.

Q. Could you talk about the year that Scherzer had, how he developed?
A.J. HINCH: You know, Max's progression is good. He's starting off in the bullpen when he first got up to the Big Leagues and getting through that.
Last year, he got up to 170 innings, which, for a young starter, is a nice leap for him. We tried really hard to get him to his inning totals the year before with the Arizona Fall League to increase his inning totals. He went from somewhere in the 130s to 170 last year and had a very good year.
I think every starting pitcher, if you toss out a start or two that imploded on them, you know, he was a bonafide guy for us. And we like him. He's a guy that has room to grow, and he took some steps forward this year.

Q. What is your opinion on keeping young starters on a strict inning and pitch count?
A.J. HINCH: Well, you have to be smart. I mean, it's a tough balance, certainly, as a manager, because you're trying to manage the game situation, you're managing careers, you're managing times and people's development.
We factor all that in. In fact, we shut some pitchers down at the end. We were out of it, so we were not going to risk any injury. You want to be smart about it. You hope that once the guys get up to the Big Leagues, you hope that they are able to absorb a full season.

Q. Scherzer, what is the next step?
A.J. HINCH: Max, he's always worked on third pitch. He's always worked on incorporating secondary stuff and being able to utilize that as a full -- three and four times through the order starter, pitching deeper into games, that is important for him as the next step.
You know, I think we think he's going to do that. He's a hard worker that he's got some competitiveness to him. He's a good, young starting pitcher in the Big Leagues.

Q. Keeping with the battery, Montero came on and established himself last year. Can you talk about that?
A.J. HINCH: That was one of the bright spots of our season was the emergence of Montero. I am very proud having watched him from when I was a farm director through AA and AAA and into the Big Leagues and waiting his turn to get significant at-bats. Unfortunately through injury, but he was able to break through and become a middle of the order bat for us and learn more about the catching positions.
Now, I'm pretty hard on our catchers from my past, and I expect a lot out of them. You know, Miggy had a nice breakthrough time, season.

Q. Where is he in that process of becoming a better catcher?
A.J. HINCH: He had the chance to work with Haren, Davis, Garland, some very prepared veteran pitchers, and he learned how to develop a game plan, how to prepare for the season. He got to play a lot, which that position, when you're looking at breaking through and really getting experience, it's hard. You have to catch. You have to play at that level.
The learning curve, you can't really develop a system of where you're going to get that experience, other than getting thrown to the wolves a little bit. And Miggy adapted fine and took over that role as a primary guy.
We are very fortunate now with Snyder and Montero, we feel like two bonafide Major League catchers to mind the post.
Miggy has played well enough. We will sort it all out in spring training. He's a terrific starting catcher. But that's not to say that Snyder is not going to get his time and get his due and get his opportunity to help our team win. But Miggy is taking a step forward.

Q. How do you see the first base/left field combination playing out right now?
A.J. HINCH: Getting Conor Jackson back is important for us. We missed his presence in our lineup. We missed his style of at-bat. We missed his versatility of being able to play first and left. And getting him back healthy, he went to the Dominican, as you know, performed well enough to be a baseball player again, and not a patient for his illness. I see him obviously as a factor in there.
Parra came through and took the opportunity to play quite a bit, and played great.
And then now, with Brandon Allen, who we traded for and got a little taste of the Big Leagues, is going to have to come and earn a spot on our team in spring training and see if he can force into some more playing time.
So as the roster stands now, I'm very comfortable in first base and left field.

Q. How big of a talent is Daniel particularly because he is left-handed?
A.J. HINCH: Schlereth, he has had a pretty rapid rise through the minors. He's got some plus-stuff that he's shown in flashes in the Big Leagues when he got his opportunity. He doesn't have a ton of experience through the Minor Leagues.
But the short time that we saw him in the Big Leagues, he was effective at times and he struggled at times, which is really based on command. You know, obviously as a power-pitching lefty, you do get quite a few command issues at times and you get a lot of strikeouts. You get some swings and misses. There's a lot to like there.

Q. So C.J. could see time left and first, do you think?
A.J. HINCH: We will see. I think with Byrnes and Parra and Upton and Young, you know, the outfield gets pretty crowded. Gillespie played pretty well in the Fall League. We played Roberts out there a little bit.
So the outfield is a little crowded. When Conor left to go back home for the holidays, you know, I told him to take his first base mitt with him. He might see some time there.
Again, it's hard to commit to anything right now until the roster really gets shaped up the way we are going to enter spring with. But as of this minute today, you know, I could see him playing a bit more at first base than we originally anticipated.

Q. Did he play first in Dominican?
A.J. HINCH: He played both.

Q. When did you tell him?
A.J. HINCH: When he came back from the Dominican. He stopped at Phoenix on his way to California.

Q. How different are the meetings now that you have your manager's hat on?
A.J. HINCH: Well, I didn't have to do this last year. They are not a ton different, other than I don't have the other aspects of my other job. I mean, the meetings up in the suite with everybody, with Josh and the staff, is very similar. Obviously my responsibilities are a little bit different, but it's not too different.
Last year at this time we weren't the centerpiece of the rumor mill, but obviously there's a little bit more attention on me in this particular job. But the flow of the meetings aren't a ton different.

Q. So are you looking forward to spring training, just have a full season under your belt?
A.J. HINCH: Well, I think just getting to start fresh is good for everybody. We have had a lot of changes in the last twelve months, or I guess eight months, with me as the manager, and now we have a couple of new coaches in Matt Williams and Beau Porter. We are going to have -- our roster is going to look a little different. I don't think it's a total overhaul. Our core group is going to be our core group.
We get to start 0-0 with a fresh start. Getting Brandon Webb and Conor Jackson back are significant off-season moves already. Adding Aaron Heilman changes our bullpen. And we are still in the works to try to do a few more things.
So getting to start fresh, getting to plan a spring training, and getting to be there kind of Opening Day at 0-0 is a breath of fresh air for me. It was quite a whirlwind last summer, and I'm glad that that's over with and we can start and focus on the baseball.

Q. We haven't talked to you since the Heilman trade. Can you talk about what you see in him and what you see as his role possibly?
A.J. HINCH: I've seen Heilman, and I've faced Heilman in the past. We have known him obviously for a long time. We watched him grow. One thing that's really good about him, he's very effective against lefties with that changeup, and that's very good to have.
I mean, being able to put a guy in a full-inning reliever or four outs, which I like to do, and him being able to get left-handed hitters out is key. We will see what inning that ends up being. We do have a chance to have a pretty fluid back of the bullpen as it stands right now, and so we want him to be a significant part of that.
But I think one key in him, in acquiring him as a reliever, is that he does get lefties out.

Q. And Qualls is your closer and the fluid part comes?
A.J. HINCH: I think we were able to take some steps forward with Gutierrez and Vasquez and Boyer came through very well last year. We had some guys that ended up pitching well in roles last year that they may not pitch in this year based on need.
Going into the season last year, to think that Gutierrez was going to close as many games as he did, we didn't expect. Zavada was pitching the eighth inning; Vasquez was pitching the eighth inning, which we never would have anticipated.
So that experience, you slide them maybe a tick back into a more useful role, depending on getting anybody back healthy and any acquisitions that we get will make it flow a little better.

Q. Parra, where is his place going into spring training? Where do you see his place right now?
A.J. HINCH: I think he's earned the right to come in and earn as many at-bats as he can. To think that he would come up -- and he was, I think, rookie of the month the first month that he was there, and, you know, he hit .290 something and showed he has plenty of arm, plenty of range.
He's a good, young player, and we were able to get -- one thing about a season like we went through last year, is we were able to accomplish some things. We talk about Gutierrez's development. Montero, even greater development as a catcher. Getting Parra that many at-bats in a season and allowing him to get his feet wet should pay dividends going into next season.
You know, I see him as a significant contributor on our team, and he can play all three. He's probably more comfortable on the corners. We were able to play him a few games in centerfield, so makes him a valuable asset. Hitting left-handed with Byrnes, Upton, Young, Jackson, all right-handed. He's a good complement for those guys.

Q. Your goal coming in is to get a fourth starter; could you talk about how you see the fifth spot lining up right now?
A.J. HINCH: Our starting pitching, like I said, is going to be key for us, and has been key for us. So, again, there are two paths that we can go here. If we stay internal, we have a number of candidates, Mulvey, Buckner, Augenstein, even Valdez who pitched in the Fall League. Guys that are going to come to spring training and get significant looks.
If we go and continue to explore external things, you know, maybe there's another name thrown in there either via trade or free agency that changes that. So it's going to be a real competition.
Our roster, certain spots on our roster are going to be some tough decisions, and they are going to have to earn it.
The guys know that coming into spring, there are a few spots up for grabs. As the roster stands today, that fifth spot looks like it could be very competitive.

Q. Any other spots open for competition?
A.J. HINCH: The bench, obviously it can shape different ways. Where Conor Jackson plays shapes a little bit of how much first base coverage do we need. Brandon Allen is obviously a player that is going to get a look in spring training. Rusty Ryal came up last year and showed that he can contribute a little bit.
You know, depending on how the roster shapes up, we could have a position, player position up for grabs. Our bullpen still is not settled. And that fifth starter spot, and of that fifth starter spot, one of those guys will end up in the bullpen. Those are all decisions that need to be made once we get our pool of players.
Based on the timing of the off-season and how we have done it in the past, our pool of players isn't complete yet.

Q. What's your opinion on expanding instant replay?
A.J. HINCH: Well, I don't -- I don't really want to turn the league into a flag-flowing challenge thing similar to the NFL.
But, if we can somehow utilize technology, whether it's an extra umpire or whether it's -- I don't want to take the human element out of the game. We all make mistakes. Us as managers, our mistakes get told to us all the time.
But, you know, there is some sense of the human element that we definitely need to keep. But if we can improve, I think it's something that we should probably explore.

Q. How do you see the batting order shaping up right now?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, see, the batting order, already? For spring training or for the season?

Q. In general. Talk about Upton hitting in the third spot.
A.J. HINCH: The middle of our order, I'm very comfortable with Upton, Montero, Reynolds. Drew obviously is going to hit somewhere in the first six spots.
Depending on how the second base competition -- we had a very productive second base last year. It took us a few guys to do it, but with Roberts and Ojeda and Ryal, now with Tony Abreu, that competition will be good. And who wins that job probably dictates a little bit of the top of the order versus the bottom of the order.
But I think Upton, Montero, Reynolds in the middle is something I stuck with once I split the two righties up in Upton and Reynolds, and something that I'll look at going into the spring.
Conor Jackson looks to be in the lineup a lot in that if he returns to form, he would be a terrific two-hole hitter. He would be a good five or six. You know, on a good team, if somebody like he is batting seventh, that, again, is all dictated by the roster.

Q. How is Chris Young doing, and are you concerned going into spring?
A.J. HINCH: September was very productive, and it was a trying year for him, he went from everything to struggling at the Major Leagues to a demotion to returning, a little pocket in there once he returned where things did not go perfectly for him, and then he got hot and was very productive. Chris Young is a good player. We missed him in centerfield when he was gone, defensively, and obviously his bat.
As the season starts and we get into spring training, the return of Chris Young at a level of which he expects and that we expect, would significantly improve our offense. He's the threat of a home run. I think he's a threat to steal some bases, which he didn't do a ton of last year.
So getting him back obviously to his 2007 form into 2008, and then we would like to erase 2009 and start fresh. He showed flashes in September, and actually carried that through virtually the entire month and finished with a bang in Chicago.
Look forward to him reporting back and returning to the player that we all know he can be.

Q. A number of organizations are now reporting that you have, in fact, acquired Jackson and Kennedy. Can you comment at all about that?
A.J. HINCH: No. I've been down here with you guys. So unless something happened in the last few minutes, I'm not going to discuss any potential trade or acquisition or anything like that.

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