Detroit — It was thought as late as the past weekend that Daniel Norris would soon return to regular shifts in Detroit’s rotation.
But that’s not going to happen. In fact, Norris could be further from pitching again for the Tigers than he was when he went on the disabled list this month with a groin strain.
Norris was in the Tigers clubhouse Monday, checking in with the training staff, after an early exit Sunday from a rehab start with Triple A Toledo.
Norris is having lingering issues not only with his strained left groin, but with his right quadriceps muscle.
It’s a nasty combination.
“Just trying to get through it,” Norris said. “Trying to figure it out.”
Norris said his right leg was “kind of giving out” as he worked Sunday’s game.
He said an MRI has shown nothing extreme. But that’s hardly reassuring to the left-handed starter who has had more injury setbacks than pitching consistency in the two years since the Tigers got him in a trade with the Blue Jays.
Before he hit the disabled list, Norris made 16 starts for the Tigers in 2017, not many of which satisfied him or the Tigers. He has a 5.29 ERA and 1.67 WHIP.
“I’ll see the doctor and get a plan of action,” said Norris, whose double ailments have contributed to a season both dispiriting and disabling.
There were 12 innings of baseball played Monday night at Comerica Park.
There were 12 pitchers used, total, by two teams.
There were no errors.
And from the sixth through the 11th inning, the game remained, 3-3, in what could have been called an excellent example of how to play big-league baseball.
But the Tigers lost, 5-3, when Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas each clubbed 12th-inning home runs, which didn’t leave Tigers manager Brad Ausmus much in the mood for consoling critiques.
“I wish it had been a good baseball game we’d won,” he said, acknowledging that Tigers starter Justin Verlander, and Detroit’s bullpen — apart from the two homers off Drew VerHagen — had contributed to a fairly polished game.
Ausmus was dealing with other bittersweet realities.
There is trade talk, almost non-stop, circulating with respect to Verlander, Alex Avila, and Justin Wilson and others.
The Tigers roster could be in for heavy revisions ahead of the July 31 trade cut-off for non-waiver deals.
There seemed also to be a sense of melancholy among fans Monday night; Comerica’s crowd was announced at 26,415.
Verlander was treated to an extra splash of applause and cheers as he left following the seventh with his pitch count at 119.
The manager wasn’t buying suggestions Verlander was any more inspired by Monday night’s emotions, or by knowing scouts were paying attention, taking notes for their front-office bosses who might have Verlander in mind ahead of next Monday’s deadline.
“If that’s the way he produces,” Verlander said, snorting at ideas Verlander was extra motivated, “why was he good before all the (trade) talk?”
When he last suited up with the Tigers, back in spring camp in Lakeland, Florida, Drew VerHagen was beginning something of a re-brand.
He was shedding that old relief-pitcher tag and was bent on making it as a starter.
Monday, he returned to the Tigers. But not as a starter, a role in which he had been working the past three months at Triple A Toledo.
He was in the Tigers bullpen. And he didn’t lounge. He pitched three innings, two of them scoreless, before back-to-back homers in the 12th gave the Royals a 5-3 victory.
“We were extremely short in the bullpen,” Ausmus said. “We were in dire need of help. And he (VerHagen) actually did a pretty good job for a couple of innings.”
VerHagen has been a starter, exclusively, for the Mud Hens this season. Results have been mixed.
His ERA spanning 19 starts and 97 innings is 4.90 — not exactly shimmering. His WHIP is an alarming 1.55. He has struck out 69 and walked 43, which, with an opposing batting average of .287, means hitters have been getting their swings and their hits.
But he still has the kind of power-oriented stuff that includes a mid-90s fastball, a curve, a change-up, and his latest addition: a slider he’s been earnestly working on with the help of one-time Tigers catcher, and current Mud Hen, Bryan Holaday.
VerHagen was a starter during his college days at Vanderbilt and persuaded Tigers scouts he was worth grabbing with a fourth-round draft pick in 2012.
He has been in and out in the years since, sometimes working as a starter, more often helping as a reliever.
The in-between rhythms likely haven’t been his friend. It is why he decided, on his own, to pursue a starting-only role.
The Tigers aren’t sure that’s his ticket to Detroit.
“I know he’d like to start,” Ausmus said Monday. “But if you ask me if he’s a starter or a reliever, his stuff plays a little better for me as a reliever.”
That’s because, as Ausmus reminded media, a relief pitcher can get by with two pitches rather than be required to master three, or four.
VerHagen had surgery early last season for thoracic outlet syndrome. He decided last autumn it was time to return to his roots: starting.
“I just felt like after the surgery,” he said, “it was the best decision long-term.”
Royals at Tigers
Time: 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Comerica Park
LHP Danny Duffy, Royals (6-6, 3.71): He won last week’s duel against the Tigers, although Detroit got nine hits against him. Duffy has quality stuff, but the Tigers tend to get their swings against an otherwise tough lefty.
RHP Michael Fulmer (10-7, 3.35): Simply one of the best young right-handers in all of baseball. Has excellent stuff, tends to keep his pitch-count tidy. He has become a second Tigers ace.