Tigers’ Norris learning to cope when things go south

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — A year ago, he would have reacted differently. Less honorably.

Daniel Norris admitted as much Thursday, after he had wrapped up 4 2/3 innings in which his high-caliber mix of fastballs, sliders, curves,and change-ups helped the Tigers beat the Atlanta Braves, 5-3, at Disney.

Norris’ reflection had to do with the early innings, when either a squib grounder along the third-base line, or an eight-hopper poked through a defensive shift’s hole, or a blooper to center, all had conspired to give the Braves a 2-0 lead.

“I’ve got to react differently to things that don’t go my way,” said Norris, a left-hander who decided some of that early injustice needed to be absorbed and defeated in the best manner possible: by throwing quality pitches.

He did exactly that, allowing six hits, total, all but two of them softies, while walking one, striking out four, and throwing 63 pitches, 45 for strikes.

“I was kind of frustrated,” said Norris, 23, who watched Braves batters nick him for five hits in the first two innings, with a line single to center by Matt Kemp the only seriously struck ball.

JaCoby Jones does it all, remains ‘in mix’ for center field

“Last year, in that (same) second inning, I’d have put five or six runs on the board.

“I think I’m learning to grow and mature.”

His protocol Thursday was simpler. More within his control.

“Just take a deep breath and realize it was a good pitch,” he said, mentioning in particular how he had handled matters after left-handed-hitting Freddie Freeman steered a grounder past third base as the Tigers over-shifted to the right side.

Norris got the victory, which leaves his Grapefruit League record at 1-1.

His ERA is 2.77, his WHIP is a handsome 1.15, while opponents — even with Thursday’s mostly mushy hits — are batting .229 against Norris.

Castellanos clout

Although the Tigers’ offensive headliner was JaCoby Jones — home run, single, walk, two stolen bases — Nick Castellanos had the day’s big blast, a 400-foot-plus, two-run homer against the scoreboard in right-center field.

Castellanos turned 25 earlier this month and, as was projected, has gotten stronger as he moves into his mid-20s.

In the fifth inning, he drove an 0-and-2 pitch on a stunning opposite-field arc for his first homer of 2017.

“Nice at-bat,” manager Brad Ausmus said of Castellanos’ bomb, as well as his approach. “He didn’t overswing.”

Ausmus said his third baseman simply is showing some crust as he begins his fourth full season in the big leagues.

“He’s done a good job of laying off pitches with two strikes,” Ausmus said, “that he may have swung at a couple years ago.”

Mop-up masters

Only a week ago, the Tigers were losing games galore and Ausmus was upset. It had to do with his pitchers’ estranged relationship with the strike zone.

But the Tigers have since gone 4-0-1 (an agreed-upon tie against the Nationals) in their last five games. Credit, of course, has gone largely to pitchers who again Thursday avoided walks and the brand of fat pitches teams earlier were mashing.

The Tigers walked only three. They allowed only a single hit from the time Norris departed in the fifth until the ninth when Buck Farmer, who had four strikeouts in his two innings of mop-up work, was slapped for a pair of hits and a walk, leading to a final Braves run.

Among the manager-pleasing cast were Daniel Stumpf (one batter, one out), power-armed Sandy Baez (one inning, no hits, one walk), and Shane Greene (one inning, two strikeouts, one hit).

So skilled

Dixon Machado had an RBI single and lashed another liner to left that was caught, which is how you end up batting .324 in mid-March.

He replaced Jose Iglesias, who started at shortstop and who had a pair of singles and owns a Grapefruit League batting average of .308.

Machado is out of minor-league options and is all but certain to make the team as a back-up infielder.

But it’s their work at short that matters most when it shortstop ranks as baseball’s important defensive position. Ausmus was asked how they compare.

“Iglesias has the best hands I’ve ever seen,” Ausmus said. “Machado is steady, kind of more blue-collar.”

It’s the quickness of Iglesias’ moves, the Tigers skipper said, “that allows him to make plays on ball that take bad hops. His feet and hands adjust so quickly.”