Port St. Lucie, Fla. — Daniel Norris is still fighting for a spot in the starting rotation. Manager Ron Gardenhire re-affirmed that Monday after the Tigers’ 4-2 exhibition loss to the Mets.
The reaffirmation seemed significant since Norris pitched the eighth inning and threw just 12 pitches.
“We just needed to get him out there on the mound,” Gardenhire said. “Boz (pitching coach Chris Bosio) said he was going to put him in at the end of the game to see if the juices flowed a little bit, just wanted to let him throw at that time of the game.”
Norris, who battled a groin injury most of last season, has been given a clean bill of health. But his throwing program was delayed a couple of days, and he’s made just one start this spring.
“We’ll get him stretched out, we have plenty of time,” Gardenhire said. “But Boz wanted to get him out there and pitch and see how he’d react coming in late in the game. Because he throws the heck out of the ball.
“There’s nothing to this. He’s going to get stretched out, unless Boz comes and tells me we’re going to do something else — and he hasn’t done that.”
Norris left quickly after the game and wasn’t available for comment. Neither was Bosio.
Gardenhire said from the beginning the plan was to break camp with the 12 best pitchers, regardless of designation. Presently there are eight pitchers battling for the five starting spots: Michael Fulmer, Mike Fiers (who started against the Mets), Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Alex Wilson, Norris, Ryan Carpenter and Francisco Liriano.
It is conceivable that two or three from that list could end up in the bullpen, including Norris.
“If you have a good arm, you have a chance to make the team — it doesn’t matter how you make it,” Gardenhire said. “We’re going to use everybody everywhere. But Norris is a starting pitcher.
“If we find out we’re going with somebody else, then we will tell him first before we tell anyone else.”
It’s been tricky for the Tigers to get all eight starters on a five-day schedule. Zimmermann’s last start was pushed back a day. Fulmer, after feeling some soreness in his elbow, was pushed back to Friday.
Liriano, a late add to the mix, will make his first start Tuesday in Lakeland.
“We have a competition for starters and with seven, eight or nine of them, some people have to pitch out of the bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “We’re trying to make the staff as strong as we can — the bullpen, the whole package.
“We know we’re going to need starting pitching and we have a lot of guys who can do that. We have to find all those innings for everybody and we got to pitch them somewhere.”
Norris gave up a two-out single, but looked relatively sharp against four minor-league hitters. He carved up the Mets’ Tim Tebow, striking him out with a change-up on a 1-2 pitch.