Strong start for Norris despite 7th-inning struggles

Chris McCosky, The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — One hurdle cleared for Daniel Norris, still another in the way. 

“He did an excellent job,” manager Brad Ausmus said, after Norris pitched six strong innings before leaving with two on in the seventh inning Sunday. “I’d like to get him into that seventh inning and get him through a few outs.

“We’ve got him in there (in the seventh) a couple of times now and he’s put a couple of runners on. But overall, he was outstanding.”

It took Norris 105 pitches to get through five innings in his last start. This time he was in attack-mode right from the start. 

He wound up striking out seven and was under 90 pitches through six innings, allowing only three hits.

“I thought he threw the ball extremely well,” catcher James McCann said. “He controlled his tempo very well and he was efficient with his pitches.”

Tempo has been an on-going issue for Norris. He’s a tightly wired competitor and the Tigers have been working to get him to better harness his energy on the mound.

“That’s something me and (pitching coach Rich) Dubee have been working on a lot,” Norris said. “Just getting the pitch, executing it and taking a deep breath. Just not getting too amped up, which is hard for me. 

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“I did a better job staying within myself.”

A home run by Alcides Escobar was the only real damage he allowed in the first six innings. His slider was as sharp as it’s been since he’s been up from Triple-A and he was getting a lot of swings and misses with fastballs up in the strike zone.

“I threw some good sliders early in the game and it got better later in the game,” Norris said. “I found something in my mechanics to where I think it’s going to play very well for me from here on out.”

But, with a 4-1 lead, he walked Eric Hosmer to start the bottom of the seventh and gave up a single to Kendrys Morales, ending his day. Alex Wilson was up and warm at the beginning of the inning, but Ausmus said he wanted to let Norris work into the seventh.

“I was going to allow him to two base runners; we had a three-run lead,” Ausmus said. “Part of this is trying to bring Norris along as well, see if we can get him through the seventh inning. That'd be a stepping stone for him.

“That was part of the decision. First, you've got to win the game, but that was part of the decision.”

Even though the Royals wound up scoring four times in the seventh, taking a short-lived 5-4 lead, it was a step forward for Norris.

Twitter @cmccosky