Inland Empire 66ers(High A Ball) manager Denny Hocking was kind enough to answer some questions with me as I attended a game on Monday 6/24 at Inland Empire. With a helping hand from Taylor Blake Ward of Scout.Com and ValleyBayNews, I was able to have the media access to reach Denny, so he deserves a hand for helping this happen. This is Denny’s 1st year as the 66ers manager so the staff at Maniac Ball piled up some questions that Denny kindly answered.
Brent Maguire: What are the difficulties of trying to win and also focusing on player development? Aka pitch count issues, etc.
Denny Hocking: Working within the requirements of what the front office sets or what the coordinators set, we haven’t run into issues with pitch count or other issues. Those are easy to get by. Generally, we will have enough guys in the bullpen so we don’t need to worry about a set pitch count.
One big thing is trying to develop guys within the frame of how you want to do it before the game or during the game.
BM: Being a manager is a tough job, how much harder is it when guys are being promoted and demoted?
DH: I am not judged by wins and losses and I’m constantly told that. That is nice but it doesn’t make it any easier for me. You always want to win and make a winning environment for these guys. I try to create an environment for these guys when they wake up every day, they’re saying, “Wow, I don’t want to wait this many hours until I go to the field.” We try to create that good environment. These guys enjoy coming to the park regardless of our record because they enjoy learning and buying into what I have learned as a coach. When the organization trusts you and puts you in control, it gives you the confidence to help these players learn. You try to let that trust get into the players.
BM: What is your style as a manager? Do you play small ball or any particular way?
DH: I like to run, I really like to run. I want to play a crisp game. Throw strikes, make the right plays, throw to the right bases, all that stuff. More importantly, win games on the bases, That hasn’t always been easy this year with guys slide stepping and things of that nature.
BM: What are your thoughts on bunting, utilizing the hit and run, etc.?
DH: I think I hit and ran 1 time last year. I just try to manipulate the game with stolen bases. This year, when you look up and the catcher has a sub 2 pop time and the pitcher is 1-2 seconds to the plate, it’s not a good matchup. You’re going to try and hit and run a little more. I like to bunt in certain situations but if Dennis Raben is coming with runners on 1st and 2nd with a 1 run game, chances are I’m probably not going to bunt. I’ll take my chances with him hitting. There’s also other times throughout the course of games where I’ll sit there going into the 9th inning down by 1 and say “Guys, we’re not playing for the tie”. If we get a leadoff runner on, I’m not going to bunt him to 2nd base. We try to go win that game. It’s probably cost us a few games throughout the year but I’ll take my chances. There’s also a chance we only have 2 relievers so going extra innings can’t always be an option down here.
BM: What is one thing you want every player that comes through Inland Empire to learn or gain when they leave?
DH: The main thing is to learn the game of baseball. So if it’s a pitcher, knowing when a hitter is setting you up. If you’re a position player, it’s looking out and seeing if a certain opponent is tipping their plans. If a shortstop is aligned a certain way, it may tell you that a pitcher is trying to throw to you in a certain way. If you’re coming up to the plate, and the outfield is shifted to the opposite way, it should tell you how you’re going to get pitched to. I just want guys to learn baseball IQ when they play here.
BM: How would you say the relationship with you, Jerry Dipoto, Scott Servais and others is?
DH: I would say that Jerry knows my name and that I’m the manager here. Scott and I have talked a few times. The times I have talked to Scott have been about the draft. That tells me that he trusts me to do my job out there. Bobby Scales and “Kooch” are the 2 guys who I do talk to from the higher up rankings.
BM: As someone who has been through the life of a minor leaguer, what was the toughest aspect of playing in the minors? As a manager now, how do you help your players with that issue?
DH: Two things for me.
One is being away from your family. Living with 3 other guys in a house is a tough deal. There isn’t a real support system. If you’re all struggling as players, it’s hard to lean on each other for support.
The other thing is the travel. It can be a little tough. It’s not so much as the travel for us but more of the commute. We had a stretch where we went to 4 games in Lancaster and 3 in Lake Elsinore. It was a rough week. It’s the minor leagues. As a manager, you try to read when your players are tired. For the most part, it’s about teaching them how to be a pro.