HOUSTON — A.J. Hinch, the former Houston Astros manager, returned to Minute Maid Park on Thursday for the second time as the Detroit Tigers’ manager and the first time in 2022.
He made his first appearance last April, as the Tigers swept the Astros in a three-game series. This time, the teams will play four times — from Thursday through Sunday — before the Tigers return to Comerica Park for an eight-game homestand against the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles.
“We did a lot of good when I was here,” Hinch said Thursday. “I have a lot of friends and family here, including a lot of people still in the Astros organization. Everybody’s been great to me.”
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Hinch managed the Astros from 2015-19 and guided the organization to four postseason appearances and the 2017 World Series championship. His family still resides in The Woodlands, Texas, about 30 miles north of downtown Houston.
The 47-year-old, a husband and father of two daughters, lives in The Woodlands during the offseason.
“I call this home,” Hinch said. “I continue to be super happy when I’m here. The memories will last forever. The relationships will last forever. It’s always fun to come back.”
Hinch later added: “When I got to Detroit, it’s the first time I managed not at my house, not where I live, not where I call my home. … I miss the people. I miss driving into the ballpark in your hometown and being around friends and family on a more regular basis. That’s never going to go away.”
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His time as Houston’s skipper was cut short in January 2020. Hinch was fired by the Astros for his involvement in the franchise’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal and suspended by MLB for the 2020 season.
The Tigers hired him soon after that suspension ended, in October 2020.
“I still consider our mistakes,” Hinch said. “I’m sorry for being involved at all in any capacity. I should have been a better leader to the fans, to the players, to the coaches, to the organization, to baseball. I’ve continued to apologize.”
Entering Thursday, Hinch’s Tigers are tied with the Kansas City Royals for last place in the American League Central.
The Tigers are 8-15 after dropping eight of their past 10 games. The series opener against the Astros is the third contest in a stretch of 34 games in 35 days that could test the Tigers’ resiliency.
The Astros, meanwhile, are 14-11 and second in the AL West. The Los Angeles Angels, led by Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, sit ahead of the Astros with a 17-10 mark.
Houston’s offense is anchored by rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena, plus veterans Yordan Álvarez, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve and Jose Siri. The starting rotation is headlined by former Tigers ace Justin Verlander (though he’ll miss the series after pitching Wednesday), along with Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Jake Odorizzi.
“Sometimes you know too much about the players you’re playing against,” Hinch said, when asked about Altuve. “Sometimes you just want to let the natural game take over. … I know they have a lot of talent on this team. I know they continue to be a perennial winner.”
Verlander, a Tiger from 2005-17, has a 1.93 ERA with four walks and 31 strikeouts in five starts. It’s the 39-year-old’s first healthy season since undergoing Tommy John surgery one start into the 2020 campaign.
The Astros reached the postseason in 2020 and 2021, even without Hinch as the manager. Led by 25-year MLB manager Dusty Baker, Houston advanced to the 2020 AL Championship Series and the 2021 World Series.
Both series ended in losses.
“The World Series is a great accomplishment, continued to play well in the division,” Hinch said of Baker, his replacement. “He took over at a very tumultuous time and really settled things down.”
On Tuesday, Baker became the 12th MLB manager to accomplish 2,000 career wins. Hinch has 655 career wins, managing nine seasons for Arizona Diamondbacks (2009-10), Astros (2015-19) and Tigers (2021-22).
“Success speaks for itself,” Hinch said. “His presence has really mattered in this organization, and I think his class and dignity that he shows is very important. How do you not appreciate the success that he’s had because of the facts? He’s been incredible as a manager.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch ‘super happy’ to be in Houston