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Norris: 105-pitch, five-inning start belies quality stuff

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — You watch Daniel Norris pitch Tuesday night and you see the life on his fastball – 93 to 96 mph with movement. You see the slider biting. You see so many bad swings from the White Sox hitters.

And yet, you look at the scoreboard and he’s at 100 pitches in the fifth inning and the Tigers are losing 3-0.

So close, yet so far.

“He had a little trouble repeating his delivery,” manager Brad Ausmus said after the Tigers rallied for an 8-4 win. “It seemed he was either throwing strikes or missing by quite a bit. And that’s not uncharacteristic of a young pitcher. That happens and sometimes you have to deal with it.

“Fortunately, he was able to get through five innings and keep us in the game and we were able to come back and win.”

Left-hander Matt Boyd endured a similar type game Monday. He gave up only two runs, but was out of the game in the fifth inning. Norris finished the fifth – in style with a pair of strikeouts – but was at 105 pitches.

“It’s not ideal,” Ausmus said. “In terms of runs, it’s fine. But it’s not ideal in terms of the bullpen. If starters keep going five innings, the bullpen starts to tire.”

The bullpen has worked nine innings in the last two games.

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Norris is well aware that five-inning starts are sub-optimal.

“I just have to be more efficient,” he said. “The thing for me is just to get deeper in the ballgame. I did it last outing, but I just have to do it more consistently. Anytime you throw 100 pitches in five innings, you're prolonging at-bats with wasted pitches. 

“I've just got to trust my stuff more and attack guys late in the count, as well as early in the count.”

He said he didn’t think he was nibbling, necessarily. Just trying to make the perfect pitch too often.

“It's just if I get 0-2 or 1-2, it's almost like I try too hard to strike them out,” he said. “Or try to make it too nasty when I need to just trust what got me to that point in the at-bat. That way I'm not going from 0-2 to 3-2.”

Norris walked three batters in five innings, all three were left-handed hitters. 

But all the damage was contained to the second inning. He center-cut a 2-2 fastball to Todd Frazier – possibly the worst strike he threw in the game – and watched it sail into the left-field seats for a two-run home run. 

He walked left-handed hitting Omar Narvaez with one out. Narvaez went to third on a double by Tyler Saladino and scored on a ground out by Adam Eaton. 

Norris buttoned it down after that, allowing three hits over the next three innings. He did have to work out of some trouble in the fourth. With runners at second and third and one out, he got Saladino to fly out to shallow right and, after walking Eaton, induced a fielder’s choice grounder from Tim Anderson.

He ended his night by striking out Justin Morneau and Frazier to end the fifth inning.

“I grinded it out,” he said. “I felt better as the game went on. My stuff felt good. As long as we won tonight, I did my job.”

The adjustment he needs to make before his next start on Sunday, he said, is between the ears.

“It is minor, but I want to expedite that process and start being more efficient and get deeper in the game,” Norris said. “Honestly it's just mental. I just have to take a deep breath and get ready for that pitch and execute it, instead of trying too hard to throw that slider back foot. 

“Instead of trying, I just need to do it.”

Twitter @cmccosky

Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris reacts after Chicago's Todd Frazier hit a two-run home run in the second inning.