Birthday boy Norris eager to get back on track

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — If the Tigers wanted to give Daniel Norris a true birthday present Tuesday, they would have let him pitch, instead of making him wait until Wednesday.

Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris walks back to the dugout at the end of the second inning in last week's loss to the Rays. He gave up five runs (four earned) on eight hits in 4.2 innings.

“No doubt,” said Norris, who turned 24 Tuesday. “As good as I felt the last start, I’ve kind of been champing at the bit to get back out there and get the ball rolling again.”

His last start, last week in Tampa, was another hard reminder of the fragility of success at the big-league level. At every other level he’s competed at, if he had his stuff, if all four pitches were working, he’d have success that day.

Which is why he walked off the mound last Thursday, after lasting just 4⅔ innings, wondering what the heck had just happened? Because he had all four pitches going, and the Rays still tagged him for eight hits and five runs (four earned).

“With me, it’s all predicated on myself, as far as what I’m feeling that day and what I can execute the most consistently,” he said. “That last start, I was executing all my pitches, and that usually is a best-case scenario.

“But sometimes in baseball, that just doesn’t do it for you. If you can go out there rolling on four pitches, nine out of 10 times you are going to have a good start.”

His fastball was humming at 94 mph, the firmest it had been in his three starts. He got six swings and misses on it, as well as 11 swings and misses on his secondary pitches (slider, curveball and change-up).

And yet, the Rays got five hits off him in the second inning, alone, four in a row at one point. There was also some shoddy defense behind him, including his own gaffe when he ran over first baseman Alex Avila chasing down a foul pop-up.

Unsung heroes bolster ailing Tigers

He was fighting irritation and he was falling behind in counts, and trying to bull his way out of trouble. But throwing fastballs in hitter’s counts is generally a bad recipe. The Rays hit .462 off his fastball.

“Aside from that inning, I threw the ball pretty well,” he said. “So far this year, that was probably the best my stuff has been, as far as getting swings and misses. But in that second inning, it was just a matter of living up (in the zone) too much and they were hitting it.”

That’s the lesson. There will be days when Norris can get by on his oppressive mix of pitches alone. But for the sake of consistency, location and working in favorable counts matter — especially when things start going off the rails, as they did in that second inning in Tampa.

“I feel confident,” Norris said. “My stuff feels good. So it’s just a matter of executing more pitches and going deeper in the game.”

And, starting some new streaks. His streaks of consecutive road starts without a loss (16) and starts allowing three runs or less (21) were snapped in Tampa.

On to the next one.

Twitter @cmccosky