Norris likely DL-bound, Tigers' pitching picture murky

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Dunedin, Fla. — The diagnosis on Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris’ ailing back Thursday, well, it sounded awful. 

“It’s not that bad,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It sounds worse than it is.”

Tests revealed hairline fractures of the L2, L3 and L4 on the spinous process — which is the bony projection off the back of each vertebra. 

“The diagnosis is different, but the timetable is the same,” Ausmus said. 

Norris, who was in the fight for the final spot in the rotation, will be on medication and unable to pick up a ball for five days. Meaning, what Ausmus hinted at earlier on Thursday holds — Norris will start the season on the disabled list.

“He won’t be ready,” he said. “Just from a pitch-count perspective he wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day. He’s been ruled out.”

According to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand, Norris can resume baseball activities once the inflammation is gone, without any other treatment. That will be at least five days, probably more.

Boyd struggles as Tigers fall to Jays

“He won’t be able to start the season, but it doesn’t seem to be anything long-term,” Ausmus said. 

With Norris out of the running, at least for now, there are two men left standing for the final rotation spot — right-hander Shane Greene and left-hander Matt Boyd, who gave up four runs in 3⅓ innings in the Tigers' 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday. 

Boyd, though, was taking no solace in Norris dropping out.

“I’m just praying for him every day,” Boyd said. “We came up together. I want to be side by side with him in the rotation and dominate with him my whole career. That’s kind of a dream. But I know everybody here has a next-man-up mentality. We want him to get healthy, but the next guy has to pick up the ball and get it done.”

Because of injuries to key bullpen arms, it’s possible both Boyd and Greene could make the 25-man roster. 

Neither right-hander Alex Wilson (lat strain) nor left-hander Blaine Hardy (shoulder fatigue) have been ruled out for Opening Day, but both are facing a tight recovery schedule.

Hardy’s problem cropped up Thursday. 

“He said his shoulder was bothering him,” Ausmus said. “He won’t throw for a few days. He’s getting tests today, but we think it’s just fatigue.”

Hardy has thrown 5⅓ innings this spring, so missing a couple of days won’t be a serious problem; missing a week or more certainly would be.

Wilson has yet to pitch in a spring game. He was expected to throw live batting practice Thursday, but Ausmus said he will need to throw multiple innings in back to back games before he’s cleared to start the season.

Both Hardy and Wilson were mainstays of the bullpen last year and were expected to play key roles this year. With those two questionable, the Tigers may have to rethink who wins the fifth starter spot.

Already, Buck Farmer has been moved back to the bullpen. It is possible, too, that Greene could be moved to the bullpen. Boyd, Ausmus said, is not an option for the bullpen. 

Lendy Castillo staying in hunt for Tigers' bullpen role

If the competition between Greene and Boyd is close — it has been, though Greene has been better — and the bullpen is depleted by injuries, it might be best for the team to keep Boyd in the rotation and put Greene in the bullpen.

“What you said may be true, and we’ll take that into consideration,” Ausmus said. “But ultimately we are trying to put the best team on the plane to Miami and then to Detroit.”

Ausmus said right-hander Drew VerHagen has all but won a bullpen spot, joining closer Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson as the only locks at this point.

“Something strange would have to happen for VerHagen not to make it,” Ausmus said.

Left-hander Kyle Ryan is also a good bet to make the club. 

So if Alex Wilson and Hardy don’t make it back, Bruce Rondon, Lendy Castillo, Bobby Parnell, Farmer and Greene are fighting for two spots. 

Stay tuned. 

Twitter @cmccosky