Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — He is only 23 years old. But he has pitched long enough to know a bad evening of baseball can scar.
And that’s what might worry the Tigers, as well as a manager named Brad Ausmus, who need better pitching and perhaps tougher responses to an ugly night than Daniel Norris showed Monday at Champion Field.
A talented left-hander whose youth can be an enemy as much as an ally was bludgeoned for 13 hits and nine runs in three-plus innings of grisly torture during the Braves’ 11-3 victory over the Tigers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that,” said Norris, who wanted his latest game to be a neat tune-up ahead of next week’s start to the regular season. “It felt like a bad dream.”
Ausmus had a slightly different view. Norris, like all spring-camp pitchers, needs to build arm strength, which was why he stuck in the game and threw 72 pitches. The Tigers skipper also wants Norris to shake off innings and moments that aren’t terribly comfortable and instead dig deeper into games.
“He’s still maturing as a pitcher, no question,” Ausmus said. “He’s not a finished product. But he’s got to find a way to get through it. He’s got to save bullpen arms so they’re not sapped.”
Overcoming a tough stretch, refusing to surrender because it’s not your night, Ausmus said, is part of a pitcher’s development process. And it can’t be postponed.
“Do that,” Ausmus said, his message clear, “and you’re in trouble in the big leagues.”
Norris came into the evening with a 3.00 ERA (now 6.43) and seemed steadily this spring to be finding rhythm and precision, not to mention confidence that might have been Monday’s most serious casualty.
But he had troubles from the get-go. In the bullpen, Norris said, “I could feel everything was out of whack.”
He had a so-so first inning, walking the second batter, Dansby Swanson, but striking out Freddie Freeman in a hitless, scoreless first frame.
“Even then,” Norris said later, “I had no idea where the ball was going.”
In the second there were three doubles and a pair of Braves runs. In the third, there were five more Atlanta hits and four more runs as even the batters Norris retired slammed the ball deep or on a line.
His fastball began at 92-94 mph but later dipped to 89, the same speed, he said, as he was throwing his slider. Norris knew then a bad night was becoming a mess.
In the fourth, it was over. But not before Norris pitched to four batters, all of whom raked him for hard singles, or in the case of Matt Kemp, a double that got by a diving left fielder Mikie Mahtook.
He threw 72 pitches. And, yes, those ominous words “dead arm” were among Norris’ laments as he stood, quietly, in the visitor’s clubhouse, seemingly overwhelmed by what had happened.
“I tried to take a deep breath, go through my checklist,” Norris said. “But I didn’t seem to have any life in my arm. I didn’t have arm-speed.”
But neither Norris nor Ausmus considered the “dead arm” complaint to be anything out of the ordinary in spring camp.
“It’s another way of describing fatigue,” Ausmus said, emphasizing that tired arms are generally a necessary part of spring training. “Everybody has a little bit of dead arm.”
Norris said he was counting on awakening Tuesday, reassured that his arm is fine, and that a regular pattern of off-day bullpen sessions is all he needs.
But this is a young pitcher who looked as if he had been in a car wreck.
“Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing,” Norris said. “I love this game more than anything. I embarrassed my team and I embarrassed myself.
“It might be one game. Regardless, it (stinks).”
It didn’t go a lot better for a couple of Norris’ shipmates. The Braves got 19 hits, five of them against Justin Wilson and Shane Greene, each of whom allowed a run.
Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, however, were fine as each pitched multiple shutout innings.
The Tigers had 12 hits, none for extra bases. Omar Infante had an RBI single, while Tyler Collins knocked in two with one of his two singles.
Nick Castellanos, who is batting .377 this Grapefruit League season, had a pair of hits, as did Miguel Cabrera (.391).