Third day in a series that previews the 2017 MLB season. Today: Detroit Tigers pitchers.
Lakeland, Fla. — Nobody has been closer to Daniel Norris’ development the last two years than Tigers catcher James McCann.
He’s watched Norris battle through injuries. He’s watched him both lose and win battles with his own hyperactivity and relentless competitiveness. He’s watched him grow from a freakishly talented thrower to the cusp of being a legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
What McCann thinks he watching is a star being born.
“Ten years from now, people are going to say, ‘You can aspire to be like Daniel Norris, but you will never be like him,’ ” McCann said. “It’s like God reached down and touched his left arm and said, ‘Son, you are going to be one nasty left-handed pitcher.’ ”
Norris seems primed, at last, to reach the potential so many have envisioned since he was the second-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011.
If he can come close to the breakout year Michael Fulmer had last season, the Tigers rotation could be formidable in 2017. He recently sat down with News beat writer Chris McCosky to discuss the upcoming season:
Q. After all the stops and starts, the ups and downs, of the last two years, are you finally beginning to feel like you are where you belong?
A. “Definitely. It’s something I’ve been working for a long time. I feel like since I debuted in 2014, I’ve been waiting for this. It’s like I’ve been chasing this for a few years, where it’s been up and down with injuries — which has been super frustrating. But now it feels like I’m finally clicking on all cylinders when I am on the mound.”
Q. Knowing you, though, you aren’t satisfied.
A. “There’s obviously tons of work to be done still. But I feel like I’m at a place where I have the most confidence I have ever had. Just because in the past it was either something nagging me — my arm was bothering me or I just didn’t really know how to pitch and my mechanics were haywire. I’m finally to the point where I have a comfort zone.”
Q. Do you feel now that when something goes wrong on the mound, you have a quicker answer for it?
A. “Exactly. A good example of that: If I yank a pitch or I throw a fastball that accidentally cuts, I know how to fix it. Instead of just repeating it four or five times in a row. Now I know what to do to get myself out of it.”
Q. What about your emotions? Your competitive fire burns hot. It’s what makes you who you are, but it has in the past also hurt you.
A. “Definitely. It’s something I’m always going to have to battle. But the improvement I’ve seen, as far as not letting it affect my next pitch — that’s gotten better. Obviously, there is still room for improvement there, as well. There’s been moments this spring even when I’ve felt that fire building up, and I’ve been able to calm it down so it doesn’t affect my next pitch. And there have been times this spring when it has.”
Q. It’s a thin line though, isn’t it? You don’t ever want to lose that fire.
A. “No, I mean I don’t want to be out there bored (laughs). That will never happen. A happy medium is the key.”
Q. Have you had to refine your repertoire any between what was working at Triple A and what you needed to succeed here?
A. “Not necessarily. Last year, a big step for me was getting my slider sharper. In 2013, my slider was the same as it was now. I was throwing it 88-90 mph. Somewhere along the way, I just stopped throwing it. The last couple of years in the big leagues, I was throwing it like 80-83 and it was just not effective. It wasn’t very good. But I started throwing a cut change-up that I used as a slider. So I started making adjustments and I finally got back to the old slider last year, and it paid huge dividends. Then I was throwing a more conventional change-up that fades. Now it’s just trying to make everything more consistent. My curveball has been the best it’s been in a while. I am pleased with that.”
Q. You saw the impact Michael Fulmer’s emergence had on the rotation last season. Can you foresee yourself having a similar impact this year?
A. “Yeah, definitely. I think I can go out there and compete. He’s obviously established himself and I think a lot of us are just trying to go out and compete every time and give the team a chance to win. Watching him this spring, it looks like he’s going to have another big year. And I expect myself to have a good year.”
Q. What are your expectations then, for the season?
A. “I expect nothing less than to help the team in the best way possible, whether that’s having a year like Mike did or some other way. I’m just looking forward to going out there and being the best I can be. That’s really it.”