Minneapolis — Daniel Norris, for all the harsh criticism he heaps on himself after seemingly every outing, is remarkably certain about his status going into the 2018 season. He believes with all his being that he’s going to be a mainstay in the Tigers rotation.
“For me there is no doubt with that,” he said. “If I’m healthy and can perform to my abilities, then all the questions are answered. But I have to be healthy.”
Norris has battled a nagging and recurring groin strain the last two and a half months of the season. In 2016, he injured his back in spring training and didn’t find his form until September. What would it be like if he was able to pitch healthy for 32 or 33 starts?
His plan is to make that a reality in 2018.
“That’s my focus for the offseason,” he said. “Even at the end of last season, I was able to pitch well and throw strikes. It wasn’t a problem. This year, with the lingering injuries, it’s been tough to repeat my delivery just because the way my body was feeling.
“My main goal is to dial that in and get it out of the way so it’s not on the forefront of my mind every time I throw a baseball.”
Initially, Norris’ offseason workout plan will be to do nothing for a couple of weeks and let the groin heal. That’s going to be the most painful stretch of the off-season for him. Once he feels ready, he said he’s going to spend a couple of weeks at the Peak Performance Project (P3) — a biomechanical sports science training facility in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Tigers' Anibal Sanchez is a P3 devotee, as well.
“I am going to get a full body assessment,” Norris said. “But I have to let this heal up. It’s been lingering for two and a half months. It’s tough to pitch like that — when you are 85 percent. It’s tough and it’s frustrating because we are losing games and I’m not pitching well.”
Norris pitched five scoreless, two-hit innings in Kansas City Thursday night, despite the groin barking every time he tried to throw his fastball at full velocity. But he found a way to pitch through it — the key word being pitch.
“Anytime I tried to throw hard, my groin hurt,” Norris said. “So, I just tried taking something off and just throw strikes. It was nice to see I could be more efficient without trying to be real nasty. Just get ahead and stay ahead.”
Efficient, he was. He needed just 54 pitches to get through five innings and he faced just one batter over the minimum. He didn’t walk anybody and had only four three-ball counts. A 14-pitch fifth was his longest inning.
He did not want to come out of the game, but wiser heads prevailed.
“The groin tightened up, that’s why we took him out,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “You could see in his delivery that it was affecting him. Once he got through the fifth, we decided to pull the plug.
“He did a good job, but he’s probably mad at himself about something.”
He was. The groin.
“I’m pretty frustrated just because I feel like I’ve been battling this for the second half of the season,” Norris said. “When I was coming out of the bullpen, it felt pretty good. But these last two starts it flared up again.
“It got to the point where it was bothering me on every pitch. Ultimately, they took me out, but I didn’t want to come out. I wanted to keep competing. But you never know what might have happened if I kept going.”