AJ Hinch: ‘The Optimism Is Real’

Brandon Tierney is a betting man, and he wants to know if he should wager on first-year Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch making it through the entire 2015 season.

Is that a safe play?

“Well, are we ever safe in these jobs?” the 40-year-old Hinch joked on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You never know. But I love the opportunity here in Houston. The second go-around for me, I was 34 my first time around and found out quickly the nuances of these jobs. You ask your players to play for you. My job as a manager is to put them in a good position to succeed and build a culture here of doing it the right way. So I’m proud of this group so far here in camp. We’ve built a nice little vibe here and then we get to play 162 to see how good we are.”

Houston hasn’t been very good the last couple of seasons. From 2011 to 2013, the Astros went 162-324 (.333) and never won more than 56 games. Last year, however, they broke through – relatively speaking – and finished 70-92 (.432).

They also have good, young players such as George Springer, Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel to build around and have added veterans such as Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus.

“I think the optimism is real,” Hinch said. “Obviously I haven’t been here the last couple years to experience some of the building part of that. But when you combine some young players that have come through the system, guys like George Springer – and Dallas Keuchel is coming into his own as a frontline starting pitcher – and you combine that with some veteran players, (it’s a good thing). When you have different segments of your team that are balanced and you have young players who are on the rise, you have veteran players who have been there (and) done that, and you have a couple of guys that keep the tone and focus on today’s game and winning, that’s a good combo for a team.

“And we have that now with the additions in the bullpen with Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Chad Qualls – those are proven guys in the back end of the game,” Hinch continued. “Evan Gattis brings a great presence and charisma to our team. And like I said, these younger players that are coming through and look like that have a chance to impact both sides of the game. That’s a fun combo. So I think that brings out a nice vibe and a lot of belief (that) things going on in the right direction.”

Tierney wondered how a manager creates a culture of winning in a franchise that has endured so much (recent) losing. What’s the first thing you do?

“I think the first thing you do is you sort of rip the band-aid off and let them know that we don’t have to carry that baggage with us,” Hinch said. “We got to be ourselves. We got to have a nice vibe. Every day we come to the ball park, our best could be good enough. If we shorten their expectations to just today’s game and we build on that, we could have a nice culture.

“When you come in as a new manager and you inherit a group, you have no idea of their personality,” Hinch continued. “You’re not sure of sort of the baggage they’re carrying with them from previous years or even some successes. So your first instinct is you want to fix everything. You want to come in and you want to show how much better it’s going to be or how much more positive it’s going to be. And the reality is, I looked at our team on the first day – we had 60 players in camp, and about half of them had never been in that Major League clubhouse before. Either Evan Gattis or Luke Gregerson or Pat Neshek – they weren’t carrying these 50-win seasons or 60-win seasons or the 70-win season last year with them.

“So I as a manger can’t stand up there and talk about improvement. I just have to talk about us being us. Our best is good enough in today’s game. If we can do that in baseball 90 times a year where our best ends up with a victory, then 90 wins takes us to the playoffs. But we really have to focus on today. It’s difficult to do in our sport because it’s a grind every single day. That mentality is why you need these veteran players and guys that have been there, done that to show the way to some of the young phenoms.”

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