Lakeland, Fla. — Daniel Norris doesn’t want it misunderstood.
Yes, he did back off on his offseason preparation this year. He pushed his throwing program back a few weeks in December. And he’s not throwing as much early in camp as he did while with the Blue Jays last spring.
But it had nothing to do with the surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his thyroid. And by no means has he tapered his intensity this spring.
“As far as going out and competing, I am still going 100 percent,” said Norris, the left-hander who is vying for the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation. “I was in mid-season form at this time last year. I’ve tried to tone it down.”
Norris feels like he overcooked it last offseason. Amped to win a job with the Jays, he wound up with a dead arm that cost him about a month of the season.
“We talked about it,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He felt like he went too hard too fast trying to make the team in Toronto and it cost him a month. We both felt that backing off might be beneficial.”
Trying to hold back a high-throttle 22-year-old fighting to make his mark in the major leagues isn’t an easy task, Ausmus admitted.
“He has that mindset where if he ran into a brick wall, I don’t know if his first thought would be to go around it,” he said. “He’d try to run into it harder.”
Still, Ausmus and pitching coach Rich Dubee are trying to slow his process. He’s not throwing every day and he’s throwing fewer pitches each session.
“It’s more of a slow build up,” Ausmus said. “The situation last year, he came to spring training ready to go, like it was Opening Day. Now he’s using spring to ramp up and get ready.”
Norris said the plan is working so far.
“I feel really good,” he said.
The Tigers open and close the season against National League teams — opening with the Marlins in Miami and closing with the Braves in Atlanta. Sub-optimal, Ausmus said.
“It’s odd,” he said. “It’s a little strange and a little inconvenient for us. We’re one of the teams that really has a designated hitter with Victor Martinez. And should we be forced to play without Victor Martinez for two or three games because of that, especially at the end of the season and we’re vying for a playoff spot, it’s not ideal.”
It obviously would be more beneficial to play interleague games in the middle of the season, when veteran players need a day or two of rest. Not at the beginning where everyone is fresh or at the end when playoff spots could be on the line.
Health permitting, the Tigers have a contingency plan in mind.
“Miguel Cabrera would be an option at third base,” Ausmus said, “as long as Victor is able to play first base.”
Around the horn
Ausmus and the coaching staff are mulling the idea of starting the season with either an extra position player or extra reliever because of off days on April 7 and April 18. Theoretically, the Tigers wouldn’t need a fifth starter until the ninth game of the season (April 14 at Pittsburgh). “It depends a lot on who the fifth starter is and how the rotation is set up and where we want guys — what teams we want our starters pitching against.,” he said. “Also how much rest we want guys in the front of the rotation to get. Anything is possible.”
… So what’s former Tigers closer Todd Jones doing with the team this spring? “Just another set of eyes, but more from the perspective of being a reliever, working with relievers, helping them understand what their role is as games go on,” Ausmus said. “How to prepare. Recognizing when they are likely to be used and showing them how to be ready before the phone rings.”
… Ausmus said former Tigers starter Kenny Rogers would also be working as a special assistant later this spring.
… Steady and at times heavy rains kept the Tigers from doing any field work Wednesday. Live batting practice was canceled but hitters did stand in the batter’s box and tracked (no swinging) live pitching in the cage. Other than stretching and individual weight room work, that was the extent of practice.