Tigers’ Norris looks to reintegrate his soft stuff

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Martin Maldonado of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim slides into second with an RBI double in the fourth inning ahead of the throw to shortstop Jose Iglesias of the Detroit Tigers on Friday night.

Anaheim, Calif. — Daniel Norris, who will get the ball in the third game of this series Saturday, hasn’t gotten out of the fifth inning in three of his last four starts.

He is better than that. The Tigers know it and he knows it.

“It’s really frustrating for me,” Norris said. “My stuff is too good to be going four innings. I need to be more efficient and more consistent.”

What he needs, he believes — and his catcher and manager concur — is to re-incorporate his two slower off-speed pitches. He has all but abandoned his curveball and change-up.

“It’s something we’ve talked about,” Norris said. “Obviously, I have four pitches that I trust. There’s been games when I’ve gotten strikeouts with all four pitches. But, for whatever reason, I’ve just been fastball-slider lately and that’s something I’d like not to be — just two-dimensional.

“It’s there. I’ve got other options. I’ve got to use them more.”

According to Brooks Baseball, Norris has thrown his fastball 57 percent of the time and his slider 24 percent. He’s throwing his change-up 12 percent of the time and his curve just seven percent.

Opponents are hitting .329 off his fastball and .303 off his slider.

“I don’t really know (why he’s gotten away from his off-speed pitches),” Norris said. “My slider has been really good, but maybe we’ve been going to that well too much.”

Norris does not, will not, shake off a sign from the catcher. He relies solely on Alex Avila and James McCann to call his game. This is sub-optimal, manager Brad Ausmus believes.

“His curve is good when he throws it and his change-up is a solid pitch,” he said. “We have to make sure he throws them. If he’s not going to shake — though I’d like to see him take a little more ownership when he’s pitching — but if he’s not going to shake then the catcher has to make sure he uses all his pitches.”

Avila caught Norris in a strong, six-inning win against the Indians and didn’t call for a single curveball. McCann caught him the next start and called only three curveballs. Both are on board with getting Norris to use his whole toolbox.

“We need to get his slower off-speed stuff in play,” McCann said. “That’s similar to what we did with Michael Fulmer last year. It’s not forcing him to throw his change-up, but — you can work on it all you want in the bullpen, but until you get a feel for it in the game, it’s a different beast.

“Daniel has a good curveball and he has a good change-up. It’s just a matter of having a feel for it to throw it when he needs to.”

McCann said it’s vital he mixes in some softer pitches.

“What it does, it’s going to create a different pace for a hitter,” he said. “If you are just sitting on two pitches — one at 95 and the other at 88 — then all of a sudden there’s a curveball at 77 and a change-up at 83, that’s a whole different ballgame.”

McCann heating up

Interesting that Ausmus stuck with McCann the last two days against tough right-handed pitching. He had been struggling, riding an 0-for-17 skid when he homered in Oakland.

Then he homered again in Arizona.

Then against back-to-back right-handed pitchers, he had an RBI single on Wednesday and three hits Thursday.

“He’s still our guy,” Ausmus said. “We want to get him going.”

Ausmus resisted the urge to start him again on Friday against right-hander Matt Shoemaker, who is extremely tough on right-handed hitters.

“I almost played him again, but the truth is, Alex (Avila) hasn’t played in a week,” Ausmus said. “We had to get Alex in there.”

McCann was grateful for the vote of confidence.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The funny thing about this game, you have to take positives out of everything. It’s very easy to get a couple hits your first two at-bats, then strike out the next two times and go home feeling bad about yourself. That’s human nature.

“But when you can go 0-for-4 and take positives from it, over the long haul of the season, it’s going to benefit you. When you go home and dwell on your failures, it’s going to show up in the way you perform.”

Buzzard’s luck

Jim Adduci was running around the outfield Thursday, shagging balls in batting practice, making throws. Then, he went through three rounds of BP himself and felt great.

And then, suddenly, he didn’t.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Adduci, who is on the disabled list with a right oblique strain. “I didn’t know what it was. I took a swing. The ball was right down the middle and I hit it right up the middle. When I went to finish (his swing), I felt something just grab. I stopped my swing, walked out and they told me to get it looked at.”

It was when he was on the trainer’s table that the stabbing pain hit.

“I’ve never had anything like this before,” he said. “I’ve broken bones, that’s my thing — hand, thumb, pinky — never any muscle stuff.”

With J.D. Martinez coming back off the DL, Adduci (or Mikie Mahtook) might have been sent back to Toledo. The injury rendered that roster move unnecessary.

“Honestly, I never thought of it that way,” he said. “I was just focused on what do I need to do to get healthy. I enjoy playing. I understand there could be a move, who’s going to go down — doesn’t matter.

“I just want to keep playing. I love being out there. I hope I can be smart about this and not try to rush back.” @cmccosky