October 29, 2019
Houston, Texas – pregame 6
Q. When Stephen Strasburg is on, he’s really locating low in the zone. When you guys are approaching him, what’s your game plan to try to get him out of his rhythm?
AJ HINCH: You know, we have to stay inside the strike zone against Strasburg. We did a really good job of that in Game 2, and made him work almost every inning to get through his innings. You can get these 15-, 18-, 20-, 25-pitch innings and then all of a sudden he can’t vacate the strike zone, he’s got to stay inside the strike. That’s easier said than done.
We have to make him work to get his outs. You can’t go up there swinging at everything because he will feast on that. But you also have to be ready to hit in case that strike is a little bit higher in the strike zone.
He’s tough. He’s really good. But I think a disciplined approach is the best approach against him, with the idea that if he’s demonstrating that he’s going to go to the big part of the plate be ready to hit.
Q. What in general when your guys see a pitcher for the second time in a week, how good are they at adjusting and what benefit is it to you guys?
AJ HINCH: It’s usually not as big a benefit when the guys are elite as it is when the guy may not be as elite. But you try to discern whether or not you’re going to be the first to adjust or is he going to be the first to adjust. And we have the same dilemma on the other side of the ball as well with JV as what comes first, their adjustment or your adjustment.
I think the idea is not to get too caught up with what was done last week and try to just stay in the moment and stay in the at-bat and try to win that at-bat. You can overflood yourself with information and he might do this, he might do that.
You do that against elite pitching and you’re already behind a little bit just given the stuff that he can throw up there, and all of a sudden you complicate it with too much guesswork based on limited information. Just go up and compete.
It’s a little bit of an advantage to the hitter in terms of having seen him before, but it doesn’t make it that much easier, as seen by Gerrit Cole, reverse the other day when he went out and pitched great the second time.
Q. You shared a moment with Joe Smith in Game 5 when he came out pitching another scoreless inning. Can you talk about the confidence you have in him and the journey he’s had coming back from his Achilles injury?
AJ HINCH: Joe has been tremendous for us. He goes from not playing half the year to let’s see what he’s going to look like coming off an Achilles injury to he could be a useful part of a bullpen to he’s now a viable weapon late in his career and coming off injury.
Super proud for him and of him and how he goes about it and we have great banter. He and I have a great relationship. He was joking with me earlier in the series that I took him out against Turner. And then I reminded him that he just gave up a bullet to Turner, so that’s maybe why I took him out earlier in the series. We laughed about it.
He’s having the time of his life because of how long it took for him to get this opportunity and how many teams he played on, the disappointment of not being in the 2016 World Series. And then now he’s getting huge outs with the game on the line.
Proud of a lot of our guys but Joe certainly stands out as someone who deserves this.
Q. This is the first inning with Justin, do guys you even address that as a staff or do you just trust one of the greatest of the series?
AJ HINCH: I just address it. The only place I address it is here. I get asked about it every day. It’s not a career trend. It’s been a little bit of an October issue. One of which I’ll take the bullet for him and say I started him on three days’ rest and he had a hard time in the first inning, so that one’s on me.
I think the more you have to talk about it the more you start to look at it a little bit. But these are really good teams that have really good top of the orders. There’s no free pass in the first inning and it doesn’t get easier as the game goes on. It’s part of what his October has been this October so far. But just because it’s happened before, it doesn’t mean it has to define what’s going to happen tonight.
I look for him to be really good in the first.
Q. After Yordan didn’t have such a great ALCS, how did you get him dialed back into the World Series?
AJ HINCH: Just belief in him. I think belief goes a long way. I had a really tough decision at the end of the ALCS and I pinch-hit for him. That was ultimately rock bottom for him because the game was close. The bases were loaded. He’s facing an opportunity to face a left-handed pitcher in Zack Britton and I hit for him.
I think trying to reinstill confidence in him after that was really important. I think his teammates rallied around him. I think he’s got a great support system at home. I just kept giving him opportunity because of the impact that he can have.
National League rules took him out of the lineup for a couple of games. But I think the consistency in how you treat people and how you believe in people and how much opportunity you give them is ultimately how they find their comfort zone.
So it was just a matter of time, and that time was perfectly timed up the other day when he impacted the game the way he did. It’s a no-brainer for him to be in the middle of things.
Q. You’ve been through a lot with this team, obviously you won a World Series. But are there still things that you can learn about this group? And if so, what did you learn from the way they just had such a great road trip?
AJ HINCH: It’s interesting, because I think you loop together an organization. We have done some things around here the last few years, and we’re very proud of that. But every team is different. So I have two sections to answer in this. One section is the group that has been to the World Series and has won the World Series. That’s when you look at Springer, you look at Correa, you look at Altuve, you look at Bregman, JV. These guys were on our team.
But there’s a section of this team that’s not the same in ’17. Gerrit Cole wasn’t here, Michael Brantley wasn’t here, Joe Smith wasn’t here, Osuna. There’s a lot of guys — so I have two sections that you can kind of answer that question with.
What have I learned about the older group that’s been here is their calmness in the World Series has doubled and tripled and multiplied having been there before. What I’ve learned from the younger group or the guys that haven’t been here before — and they’re not necessarily young — is how much fun it is to do this for the first time.
And so I see it as sort of a dual group of guys that have all come together and they’re sharing their experiences, whether it’s enthusiasm, Gerrit Cole’s intensity being in the first World Series of his career to a World Series MVP in George Springer that just stays the course and then hits a huge home run to separate us in Game 5.
That’s been fun for me because this is a true team and these guys are all in it together. They’re not ashamed if they’re nervous because it’s their first World Series, and they’re not overconfident just because they’ve been there, done that before. And that blend that we’ve been able to put together has gotten us to this point.
Q. Two of the trends in baseball have been bullpenning and obviously the eruptions of runs this year with home runs. And yet the two teams that have gotten the furthest here have gotten here with starting pitching. Is that a reinforcement of what it takes to win in October or something more to be said about a correction afoot with starting pitching?
AJ HINCH: I think when you have the type of pitchers, not just having starting pitchers — we can all field starting pitchers, we’re fielding elite ones and so are they. That lends itself to sort of an older school brand of baseball where you hand the ball to a star, to an ace, to someone that you expect to go deep into the game and then you let them pitch.
The bullpenning idea for any one game, it’s really good. It’s an effective way to frustrate a really good lineup. And we saw that a couple of different times through the postseason for us. Where our guys didn’t love facing the Tampa bullpen or the Yankees bullpen or seeing guys any one given game.
Where that hurts you from this-is-the-way-it-should-always-be mentality is a longer series. You get into a five- and seven-game series, it’s tough for those guys to keep doing that. When you ask a bullpen to continually get 18 to 27 outs, you’re going to need a lot of guys to be really good in order for you to get to that finish line.
To win in October I think you need a lot of things. You do need starting pitching, you do need a good bullpen. You need an unknown star to step up and start hitting some home runs or making great defensive plays. You need a real team. And you can’t do that just one way otherwise we would just blueprint, copy and paste and do it the next postseason.
Managing your club is based on managing your personnel. In this particular instance, Davey and I have to manage elite starting pitching and we get to talk about old school ways of getting out of their way and just letting them pitch. It may be different next year if we don’t have these guys.
Q. For the group that was here two years ago and for the franchise itself, would a second title three years define the Astros in a way —
AJ HINCH: That’s really deep before Game 6 of the World Series.
I don’t know. I don’t know. Obviously it would be very special. But I don’t know. That’s too much for me. I’m just trying to get Turner out in the first inning for JV.
Q. Washington I assume empties its pitching staff tonight. Is there any way your approach is any different from any other game in this series?
AJ HINCH: No, we’re trying to win today’s game. I’ll empty my own tank. There’s certainly a couple of guys that I’m not going to use; Greinke and Cole. But we’re trying to win today’s game.
I think it’s important for our team to play today exactly how we played the previous 16 postseason games that we’ve played, and that’s try to win today’s game. And kind of all hands on deck, the right mentality, the approach.
There’s no soft landing into a Game 7. We’d be foolish to think that we have some sort of longer leash just because we’re not in an elimination game for us. Anything can happen. And I think if you change your mentality, you might change your results.
Q. Back to Alvarez. Do you remember the first time you saw him hit back in Spring Training? What kind of impact do you think he could have made this year?
AJ HINCH: First time I saw him hit was a couple of years ago he came over as a Minor League fill-in to come over and get a couple of at-bats in Big League Camp. This is a guy we traded for from the Dodgers, the big trade, we tried to sign him internationally, and he signed with the Dodgers, and then traded him for Josh Fields.
We knew who he was. Our Minor League people had continued to tell me his presence was mature, his approach was mature. And he hit the ball harder than any human they’d seen in a long time. All that turned out to be true.
This spring when he started to get more playing time, we played him in left, we DH’d him a lot. It’s great when you have a prospect that comes to Big League Camp because you can really give them a lot of attention and a lot of exposure. He’s going to play the back half of every single game pretty much.
Once he started hitting in the spring we felt he was very, very impactful, to the point of where Major League managers and coaches started begging their front offices to, like, Can this guy break with us? Can he come to the big leagues? We’re ready for him. He’s a left-handed presence. And he still had some unfinished business, and they got to the middle part of the year, and we felt like he was going to come up and make an impact.
When he got to the big leagues it was immediate. He’s handled success with grace. He’s fit into our clubhouse like a mature veteran even though he’s young. And he’s been nothing short of exceptional even in his struggles in the postseason.
Q. You talk about the players who have been here before. You’ve been here before but we know how you tend to grind. Describe last night and this morning for you.
AJ HINCH: Yeah, last night was good because I was tired from getting in at 5:30 in the morning the day before. It was easy. I watched the Rockets, hometown team here, on TV and just got to today’s game.
I think the longest wait is from like right now until game time. That’s where you’re just anxious to get to the game, I want these players to get ready, we’re ready to compete.
And I’ve been here before. I don’t have any nerves. I don’t have any tension. I don’t have any even a lot of stress. We know virtually everything that we need to know going into today’s game. We’ve had five games against these guys, there’s not going to be a ton of secrets. I don’t know exactly when they’re going to start runners or when he’s going to make a move on his pitching.
But we know their players. We’ve worked really hard to be prepared. We’ll talk a little bit about positioning between now and the beginning of the game, and then the real fun begins.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports