Lakeland, Fla. — When you finally hear pitching coach Chris Bosio explain his thought process with Daniel Norris and other Tigers starting pitchers, you see there is a sound methodology behind his unconventional ways.
Even if they seem baffling at first, which it certainly was to Norris when he was asked to pitch the eighth inning on Monday.
“I have to trust his plan and that’s the hard thing because I don’t really know him all that well,” Norris said Wednesday. “But I have a decision: I can trust him, or I can worry about it. I choose to trust him.”
Bosio told Norris right before the start of the game that he’d pitch the final inning against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Norris was expecting to throw the middle three innings. He threw 12 pitches in the game. And that started some murmuring that the Tigers might be prepping Norris for a relief role.
Turns out, Bosio was prepping Norris the same way he was prepped himself when he was breaking in with the Brewers in the mid-1980s. He had been a starter at Triple A, but his first appearance in the big leagues was as a closer.
“That’s a different heartbeat there, a different urgency,” Bosio said. “And to be able to take that mentality into a starting role later in my career was invaluable for me.”
He believes it would be beneficial for Norris and other starters (young starting pitching prospect Sandy Baez also has closed out a game this spring), as well. And Norris agrees.
“He said he just wanted me to go out and compete, and have that closer mentality and let it eat instead of trying to finesse everything,” Norris said. “He said, ‘I’ve watched you pitch and you are at your best when you have that brim-down, attack attitude.’
“For me, I was like, ‘All right. Say no more.’ A lot of times in my career they tried to tell me not to be like that. That I was too intense and I needed to back off and breathe and relax. He teaches that upbeat pace and that plays into my game pretty well.”
Instead of thinking of a start as a seven-inning event, Bosio has Norris looking at it as seven one-inning battles.
“It helps me to not think ahead,” Norris said. “It’s just right here, right now, do or die, every inning. I like that thought process a lot.”
As for getting his pitch count up, Bosio has that covered, too.
“What you don’t see is all the pitches he throws with his warm-ups,” he said.
Bosio tracks every pitch, from flat ground throws to the pre-game bullpen. All told, counting the 12 pitches he threw in the game, Norris was over 50 pitches. Right on track for just his second outing of the spring. He threw a 60-pitch bullpen last week.
“My evaluation of (Norris) so far has been that he’s locked in and very receptive to anything I’ve done,” Bosio said. “I look at Daniel as a young, very talented pitcher who has a willingness to get better.
“With young players, doesn’t matter if they are pitchers or position players, they’re going to have their ups and downs. Daniel falls into that category. But we’ve got a very talented left-handed pitcher in our organization and he’s trying to find his way.”
Spring training is Bosio’s laboratory. He’s putting pitchers in as many different situations as he can think of to get them ready for every eventuality in a 162-game season. He wants to test the mettle of all these pitchers, young and old, to see how they react in different situations.
“We are trying to explore every option with every guy,” he said. “Put them in every situation we can and think outside the box a little bit to see what roles they can handle.”
He’s not interested in type-casting any of them.
“Versatility in today’s game, with position players and pitchers, is huge,” he said. “Losing Travis Wood (left-hander who will have season-ending knee injury) was horrible because he could’ve filled five different roles for us. I would love a pitching staff full of guys like that because now you’d have some options and you’ve got some power.
“The days of this guy is going to do this (role), I really believe those days are over. You need versatility in today’s game.”
That said, Norris doesn’t believe he’s auditioning or being groomed for any type of super-reliever role.
“I don't think so,” he said. “If I did think so, I would ask them about it. But I don't think that's what they're thinking about, based on communications we've had. I believe I can be as good as I want to be as a starter.”