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Shake it off? Norris content to let catchers call game

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — He almost did it in the fifth inning Saturday night.

Daniel Norris had gotten ahead of Mike Trout 1-2 with first a slider and then a 94-mph fastball that Trout swung through. Catcher James McCann called for another fastball in. The thought flashed through Norris’ mind to go back to the slider.

“I know he’s the best in the world, but I beat him right there,” he said.

But, Norris is adamantly opposed to shaking off any sign from his catcher, so he threw the fastball and Trout leaned his padded left arm over the plate and the pitch grazed his elbow.

“Hindsight is 20-20,” Norris said. “I could’ve shaken to it (slider), but at the same time, whatever he calls, I have to trust it.”

Although manager Brad Ausmus would prefer Norris take more ownership of his starts and shake off the catcher when he sees fit, Norris wants to eliminate that type of clutter from his mind.

“I used to shake all the time,” he said. “About halfway through last year I just said, ‘I’ve got to stop thinking so much.’ So I started letting the catcher call the game and just trusting my stuff.”

That’s the thing. Norris has four pitches that he trusts against any batter in any count and in any situation. It’s just simplifies his process to let the catcher pick which ones he throws so he can train his focus on the execution.

“I don’t know if it matters,” McCann said of whether Norris gets more involved in pitch selection. “I think it would help him as far as his pace. But it’s just personal preference.”

Norris likes to work fast — get the ball, get the sign and go. Sometimes that works to his advantage, other times it works against him.

“If he’s got a thought process behind it, even if that means he only shakes once or twice a game, that’s fine,” McCann said. “For him, it’s tempo. If he can get to the point where he’s thinking things through, whether it’s shaking or not, at least it slows down his tempo.”

Norris isn’t the only pitcher to rely solely on the catcher to call his game. Red Sox ace Chris Sale does not shake, either. In fact, he takes very little interest in scouting reports or hitters’ tendencies. He just wants to execute his pitches; if he does, he is confident he will win the battle 99 percent of the time.

“You don’t want to get to the point where you are shaking just to shake,” McCann said. “It’s a fine line. But there is some truth to what Brad said, to taking a little ownership and wanting to call your own game.”

Norris understands that. For now, though, he wants to focus on executing his pitches, being able to repeat his delivery and have more consistent and efficient outings. The game-planning and pitch-calling can come later.

“I get swing-and-misses on all four of my pitches,” he said. “For me, I’ve got four out pitches. But I am not striking that many people out right now, and I don’t really even know why. My stuff’s been as good as ever, but I just need to execute better.

“As I progress, yeah, some of that other stuff will happen.”