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‘He’s a bulldog’: Norris digs deep to avert disaster

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cleveland — It was, potentially, a disaster scenario for Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris.

Before he even threw a pitch Friday, both benches had been warned against throwing up and in on hitters – the result of Indians’ Trevor Bauer buzzing Miguel

Cabrera in top of the first. So, for Norris, a big chunk of his game plan — working the inside quadrant of the plate — had to be scrapped.

“The initial scare of it is, if you go too far inside, you get tossed in the first inning and the whole bullpen suffers,” Norris said. “You really have to be careful.”

And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Norris knew coming out of the bullpen before the game that he’d left his curveball back in Detroit. He didn’t have it. So, he went into the game with just three pitches and, initially, just the outside part of the plate to throw to.

But wait, there’s more. In the third inning, Roberto Perez hit a screamer back through the box that drilled Norris in the left shoulder blade. Norris was knocked to the ground but in an instant managed to flip himself back up.

“Adrenalin is a beautiful thing,” Norris said after the game. “I’m feeling it right now, but I wasn’t coming out of the game. He got me pretty good. It’s probably God telling me not to throw fastballs down the middle.”

He didn’t do a lot of that. He walked four batters and of his 101 pitches, 47 were balls. Not the ratio he was looking for.

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“I have to eliminate those walks,” he said. “That’s frustrating me.”

But here’s the kicker: Disaster was averted. Norris, despite everything, allowed two hits and struck out five in six scoreless innings and left with a 6-0 lead over the Indians.

“It’s part of growing up as a pitcher, realizing what you have that night and what you have to make happen that night,” he said. “I think it’s been a common thing with some of our pitchers. We’re having good outings but we’ve all been like, ‘Man, I really didn’t have my best stuff tonight.’”

Michael Fulmer had a similar outing against the Twins earlier in the week. He struggled early but he walked off the field with another quality start and a win.

“It’s about bowing your neck and accepting the challenge,” Norris said. “We’re young guys, but we’re also maturing in that aspect. Like, ‘You know what, I don’t have my stuff but I’m going to make it happen. Because that’s what I have to do.’

“I think that’s a positive for us.”

Norris has now allowed three runs or less in 21 consecutive starts – the longest active streak in baseball. He’s also not been beaten in 16 straight road starts – fourth longest streak in Major League Baseball history.

Heady stuff for a guy with 29 career starts.

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“He’s finding it,” catcher Alex Avila said. “Once he’s able to command his fastball better, he’ll have a better feel for throwing it in and out on a more consistent basis – when that happens, he’s really going to take off. His stuff is really good and he’s a bulldog out there.”

Give Avila an assist for steering Norris away from the crash Friday. He came out to the mound for a chat before leadoff hitter Carlos Santana stepped into the box in the first inning.

“After the umpire warned him, it seemed like he was pretty upset about it,” Avila said. “In warmups he was overthrowing his pitches. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t let that be a distraction. Just pitch your game. You don’t have to worry about that. It’ll be fine.”

Message received. Norris dispatched the first three hitters in nine pitches and retired the first eight in a row.

“He’s George Clooney,” Norris said of Avila. “I tell him, when he talks, he’s George Clooney. He comes out there and calms me down. He hates that.”

The four walks all came after he was drilled in the shoulder blade by Perez – coincidence or not. Still, he made clutch pitches with runners in scoring position.

He got Francisco Lindor to fly out with runners on first and third; Abraham Almonte to ground out with two on; Brandon Guyer to fly out with two on.

“He was effectively wild,” Avila said. “He was like that in his first start, as well. But he has unbelievable stuff. So you are kind of walking a fine line as far as calling a game – to make sure he is throwing enough strikes so the hitter honors that pitch and you can get the swings you need to get.”

In his first start, Norris got by with his secondary pitches. Friday, it was his 94-mph fastball that pulled him out of trouble.

As he said, whatever it takes. Just get the job done.

Twitter: @cmccosky