Aug 11, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; General view of Minute Maid Park before a game between the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
At FanFest this past Saturday at Minute Maid Park, I had the privilege of sitting in at the Blogger Roundtable with Astros President, Reid Ryan; Astros General Manager, Jeff Luhnow; and Astros Manager, A.J. Hinch. Everybody had heard a lot from Reid Ryan and Jeff Luhnow before, but this was one of the first real moments to get behind the scenes with the new skipper.
Hinch is ready to get to Spring Training, as that will mean that life is back to normal for him. Ever since signing on the first day of the offseason, he’s had to move from San Diego, along with being part of all the transactions over the winter. And now he’s ready to get this group of players and mold them into his own. Don’t take that as him changing all the player’s ways though. He acknowledged that previous managers brought out the best in certain players and he’s not looking to change that. What he’s looking at is tweaking any weak areas from players and fully believes in letting the players be themselves.
Hinch said that the players got here being themselves, and he’s not going to change who they are as long as they are “all in.” With the surplus in talent at numerous positions, Hinch is fully aware that he’s going to have players upset at him for sitting on the bench. And he’s okay with that as long as those players trust him and are all in on winning.
“And these guys can be themselves if they compete between the white lines at a level that I deem acceptable, that’s all I ask.”
“You gotta let these guys be themselves. They got to this level being themselves in an environment that is high pressure, high volatility, highly competitive. That’s a huge statement that I’m going to say. And these guys can be themselves if they compete between the white lines at a level that I deem acceptable, that’s all I ask. Be yourself and be a pro, those are catchphrases that I’ll use a lot. I’ll also talk about being all in. If you’re all in, then who I hand the ball to in the 7th Inning doesn’t matter if he’s helping us win that game or who I hit when I pinch hit for somebody.We have a lot of bodies now, which is good… We’ve built it to where there is a little competition. And if you’re all in, and you really are all in, then you can be mad and come to my office and we can talk it through. But when we go out on that field, then we are 25 strong.”
In terms of having a set closer, Hinch said that is not determined at this moment, but he does like to have defined roles for his players. Not only does he like it, but the players are the ones who really determine defined roles.
” I’m not really sure right now exactly how it plays out… In a perfect world, it’s plug and play…
“Pitchers prefer having an accustomed role, having an idea and knowing that is their inning. I’m going to tell them that as long as they are good on both sides, they can have that inning. When a guy struggles against lefties, that kind of dictates the players in getting their define roles more than me dictating somebody. It starts in the backend, and I have to find out what is the best order… I’m not really sure right now exactly how it plays out… In a perfect world, it’s plug and play…”
When asked about having a set lineup or tinkering with it, he said the only thing he knows for sure at this point is that he will go with the hot bat. He only knows that Altuve will be hitting 1 or 2, and that he wants a lefty to arise from the group to break up the Springer-Carter-Gattis trio to make it tougher on the opposing team to get through the lineup with their bullpen moves. Hinch is more concerned with left/right-handed bats mixed up in the lineup than he is with the strikeout potential. He knows there will be a lot of strikeouts, jokingly stating that nobody on the team has struck out this season yet.
“There is some danger associated with throwing strikes to our hitters now, and that cat and mouse game will go on from the first pitch on.”
“One thing I will say about strikeouts is that the pitcher has to get two strikes on you before you strike out, right? There is some danger associated with throwing strikes to our hitters now, and that cat and mouse game will go on from the first pitch on. I don’t want that to be a cloud over our guys… There’s a good strikeout and a bad strikeout… When you chase, those are giveaway stikeouts, and if we can condense those down to being outs within that strike zone, that will be our priority.”
Hinch has also learned a lot from his time as the manager in Arizona, notating that the differences between that job and this one are “night and day.”
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“The timing, both in my life, and in the season are different. You take over in May, and you’re jumping on that hamster wheel while it’s going. You’re inheriting an entire new coaching staff, players… I was 34 and I wanted to tackle the world. I had come off the field three or four years before that… I learned that some of my instincts were right, and that some of my fears were unfounded. Some of the things made you think why in the heck would I do that… And starting off with the Astros in the offseason, and being involved with the planning of this team, being able to have meals with some of the players that I’m inheriting are night and day compared to May  in Arizona. You go from a Press Conference to seeing your new team in the span of a few hours.”
Just like you Mr. Hinch, we’re ready for Spring Training to start. We’re ready to show up to Minute Maid Park and cheer you and the club on. We’re ready to see you bring winning baseball back to Houston. We’re all rooting for you, and we’ll definitely make sure you hear from us if you get tossed more than three times this season.
Make sure to go see what it’s like to be Astros GM, Jeff Luhnow, in an offseason; along with insight from Astros President, Reid Ryan on possible upgrades to Minute Maid Park in the near future.