Tampa, Fla. — About the only blemish on Daniel Norris’ report card Wednesday was that ball Gary Sanchez launched.
It might yet be orbiting Earth after it cleared the 60-foot scoreboard at Steinbrenner Field.
“I didn’t look at it,” Norris said, speaking of Sanchez’s blast, which resembled in height and distance the 497-foot bomb Sanchez clubbed last summer at Comerica Park. “It was really loud. I kind of figured it was going pretty far.”
Otherwise, it was a steady first start for Norris, the gifted left-handed pitcher who might, in 2018, be settling in as the rotation star the Tigers were convinced they had gotten three years ago in a big trade with the Blue Jays.
Norris worked the first two innings of a game that saw the Tigers ignore Sanchez’s missile to snap back and beat the Yankees, 9-6, in a Grapefruit League tussle.
Norris threw 31 pitches, 18 of which were strikes. Other than Sanchez’s satellite, the Yankees’ only other hit against him was a bloop single to right by Giancarlo Stanton.
Norris struck out Aaron Judge on a first-inning change-up. He whiffed Didi Gregorius in the second with a 45-degree slider. His fastball cruised mostly in the low 90s and paired well with his curveball.
Four pitches. Four good reasons to have liked Wednesday’s season debut.
“He did fine,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said as he cooled off following another day marked by a hot Florida sun and temperatures in the 80s — the early season’s daily routine in 2018. “The ball came out really good. It came out really nice.”
Norris has been working with the Tigers new pitching guru, Chris Bosio, who has been making friends galore since he arrived with Gardenhire. The big focus has been “balance” that occasionally has been Norris’ nemesis. It stems from the way in which one of the team’s better all-around athletes sometimes competes more like a gymnast than a pitcher.
“Second inning, I felt more relaxed,” said Norris, who turns 25 on April 25, and who would appreciate a season minus injuries, stress, or frustration, any of which he has known since arriving in Detroit. “I didn’t feel as if it was letting it go (for velocity) as far as I could, but I felt more in control.”
It was the Tigers who took control following Sanchez’s sky-scraping homer.
They took a 4-2 lead in the third, helped mainly by a three-run homer John Hicks launched into the left-field seats when he caught a hanger from Dellin Betances.
They added single runs in the sixth and eighth innings for a 6-2 lead that a half-inning later turned into a 6-6 tie when Enrique Burgos had a falling out with the strike zone, which helped the Yankees to a four-run surge.
The Tigers came back with three in the ninth on Pete Kozma’s walk, singles from Kody Eaves and Ronny Rodriguez, a broken-bat double by Dominic Ficociello that scored a pair, and Christin Stewart’s long sacrifice fly to left.
While the heavy attention Wednesday was on Norris, his follow-up cast pitched generally sharp baseball until the eighth when Burgos melted down.
Artie Lewicki, Chad Bell (two innings), Eduardo Jimenez, and Warwick Saupold combined for a five-inning scoreless stretch against the Yankees.
Mark Montgomery was summoned when Burgos loaded the bases, and pitched better than the boxscore hinted. He was nipped for a two-run, ground single through the left-side infield hole. He also threw two wild pitches, one on a swinging third strike. But his breaking ball was diving and Montgomery will get a long look from the Tigers during spring’s auditions.
Dane Myers, the Tigers’ sixth-round pick last year from Rice University, had Burgos-like issues in the ninth and loaded the bases. But the Tigers brought on another of their young farm-club hotshots, Anthony Castro, who put away the Yankees on a pop-up and strikeout.
The Tigers had 11 hits Wednesday, including a pair of singles from prospect catcher Grayson Greiner.