Healthy Norris getting comfortable on the mound
Detroit — This season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for Daniel Norris.
Then again, he pitched last season knowing he had cancer. So, yeah, this is much better.
“No doubt,” Norris said in the Tigers clubhouse before Tuesday’s game against the Miami Marlins at Comerica Park.
“Every time you hear the word, you think about it, whether it’s on TV or whatever.”
Norris, the Tigers’ 23-year-old, left-handed pitching prospect who makes his second start of the season Wednesday afternoon, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last July.
Days later, he was dealt to the Tigers as part of the David Price trade.
The Toronto Blue Jays, then the Tigers, told him he could get the surgery immediately and shut it down for the season. But he said no. Pitching kept his mind off the cancer.
And pitch, and pitch well, he did, going 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in eight starts for the Tigers, making him the front-runner to be No. 5 in the rotation in 2016.
It didn’t work out that way.
“I had faith in God’s plan,” Norris said.
Norris had thyroid cancer surgery in October, and beat that disease. He was declared cancer-free.
The surgery didn’t even interfere with his offseason workouts, because baseball players usually take a chunk of time off in October anyway. He figured it only set him back about two weeks.
But in spring training he suffered a back injury, and that set him back much farther.
He started the season on the disabled list, and when he returned to action for Single-A Lakeland and then Triple-A Toledo, he had zero command and was getting hit around. He fell behind Michael Fulmer, then Matt Boyd in the Tigers’ immediate back-end rotation plans.
The Tigers weren’t worried. The velocity never wavered, and they figured it was just a matter of time. And they were right. After a brief call-up in May to help the Tigers bullpen, his next seven starts at Toledo were exceptional, and he was called up a week ago to take Boyd’s spot in the rotation.
“We like the stuff,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “We’ve always liked the stuff.
“I’d like to see him not beat himself up so much when he gives up a hit or a home run.”
Ausmus saw a bit of that from Norris last season, and then again in his first start this season, when he was good, except for three solo home runs.
That’s the competitor in Norris, which is ideal — to a point.
“He’s hard on himself, which is probably gonna make him successful in the long run,” Ausmus said. “If you’re beating yourself up so much about the last pitch, it doesn’t bode well for the next one.”
Norris said he felt like his stuff was on against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday — he had five strikeouts to just one walk — but that he needs to do a better job of getting ahead of hitters, so he doesn’t have to come right down the middle on 2-0 and 3-1 counts.
The Tigers, meanwhile, really need Norris, with Mike Pelfrey still struggling — he gave up seven hits through the first three innings Tuesday — Anibal Sanchez back in the bullpen, and Boyd back in Toledo.
And Norris, a competitor, relishes the chance to earn the job for keeps — a job, no doubt made easier without the cancer looming over him.
“Every day I appreciate getting up and being able to play ball,” said Norris, “whether that’s Triple A, Little League, the major leagues.”
Tigers right fielder Steven Moya (right knee) said he was good to play again after a couple games off.
He wasn’t in the lineup, though, against Marlins lefty Adam Conley.
Mike Aviles was again in right field, and Ausmus confirmed it was because of the pitching matchup, not Moya’s knee.
Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler goes Wednesday, so Moya should return then.
Monday’s off-day came at a fine time for the Tigers, after a three-game whipping by the Cleveland Indians.
“The sun came up today,” said James McCann, always the optimist.
Said Ausmus: “Nobody’s really happy about how the weekend went. ... Baseball teaches you to look forward.”
Around the horn
In a voting update released Monday, Ian Kinsler of the Tigers fell out of the top five among American League second basemen. He’s even behind Omar Infante and Ryan Goins.
“Like my Mom told me, ‘Life isn’t always fair,’ ” Ausmus said. “But Kinsler not being top five is ludicrous.”
... Double-A relief pitcher Joe Jimenez and Single-A outfielder Christin Stewart were named Tuesday to the Futures Game rosters.
Marlins at Tigers
First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Comerica Park, Detroit
■RHP Tom Koehler (6-6, 4.07), Marlins: He’s been impressive, especially lately, with a 2.92 ERA and .224 opponents’ batting average over his last 10 starts.
■LHP Daniel Norris (0-0, 4.50), Tigers: Makes his second start and third appearance of the season for the Tigers. Was solid in his first start, despite three solo homers.