Tigers’ Daniel Norris impresses with command, poise

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Daniel Norris was asked how he saw the battle for the final rotation spot going.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” he said. “I wish I did, just to have some clarity. But I don’t know. And I can’t think about that because I’ll be up at night. I am just going out and when it’s my turn to pitch, go pitch. Let them make the decision.”

Norris showed the coaching staff some things they were hoping to see in his start here in the Tigers’ 6-6 exhibition tie with the Phillies Friday.

He threw lots off strikes. No walks and no three-ball counts in his four innings.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Phillies 6

“Throwing strikes has always been a problem for me, so this spring, that’s what I am trying to focus on,” he said. “Get ahead instead of just raring back and letting it go. Having a little method to the madness.”

Norris threw 56 pitches, 42 strikes. He also got a lot of soft contact with five ground-ball outs.

“As far as that goes, it was pretty good,” he said.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio earlier this spring had Norris pitch the final inning of a game, to feel that late-inning intensity. That’s the mentality he wants to take into his starts.

More: Tigers getting message: Err on the side of aggression

“You have to attack (when you pitch) out of the bullpen,” Norris said. “That’s what I did today. No three-ball counts, I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my career.”

Another thing that no doubt pleased Bosio and manager Ron Gardenhire, when Norris got in trouble in the second and third innings, he kept his poise and minimized the damage.

“He’s in a battle here and he’s got to be confident he can go out and get it done,” Gardenhire said. “Today was a good step. He showed some confidence and I thought the ball was coming out of his hand good. That’s what he has to do. It’s a confidence thing and trusting his stuff.

“He’s got good stuff. He can definitely help this ballclub.”

He gave up three straight hits in the second and the third innings, but limited the Phillies to one run in each inning. (He did get a defensive bail-out in the second when left fielder Mikie Mahtook threw out Ryan Flaherty at the plate.)

“Usually as a starter, there is one inning where you lose it for a couple of batters,” he said. “Today, if you said I lost it for a couple of batters, it was just giving up a hit on first pitches. For me, if I am throwing strikes, I am happy with that.”

His velocity isn’t yet where it was last season, but Norris isn’t concerned.

“The velo will come,” he said. “Every spring I’m like this. I’ll have one outing where I’m 94-95 mph and the rest is like this. I don’t feel dead arm, but last year and the year before, you always hit this phase.

“You are grunting to hit 90.”

His fastball Friday was clocking at 90-91 mph (down from 93-94 last season). His change-up (83-84), slider (85-86) and curveball (75), were also down a couple mph.

“I’m feeling free and easy and I am not worried about throwing 95 right now,” he said. “I just want to avoid that dead arm. If I’m throwing strikes, I want to stick with that. Once I get used to the mechanics I’ve been working on, then I will add more velocity.”

There are six starting pitchers left in camp: Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano and Norris.

A closer sighting

Closer Shane Greene made just his fourth appearance of the spring and his first since March 5. He threw a 20-pitch fifth inning and allowed a home run to J.P. Crawford.

“We’ve got a nice program for him,” Gardenhire said. “We’re good. The velocity was there. He’s doing just great. He’s exactly where he’s supposed to be right now.”

Gardenhire explained that Bosio is using a work plan for Greene similar to that of other top closers he’s either worked with or consulted.

“Seven outings spread out over the course of the spring,” Gardenhire said. “It’s something that’s used by other people and he likes it. It’s the way it’s set up and it’s good for him.

“We’ve got to have him healthy. It’s what you’ve got to do.”

Rude welcome

The Tigers faced an old friend in the sixth inning. Former closer Francisco Rodriguez is trying to make a comeback with the Phillies. It didn’t go well.

Miguel Cabrera greeted him with a double and Nick Castellanos walloped his fifth home run of the spring, a laser shot onto the berm in left field.

Victor Martinez also singled before Rodriguez settled down.

Martinez also had a pair of long doubles off starter Nick Pivetta.

Jeimer Candelario also hit a home run for the Tigers. Batting left-handed, he lined a 95-mph fastball from Pivetta over the Tigers’ bullpen in right field.

Bullpen tales

Right-handers Johnny Barbato and Joe Jimenez became the first Tigers relievers to pitch in back-to-back games this spring.

Barbato gave up two runs in the sixth inning and Jimenez walked in a run (on a disputed 3-2 pitch) in the seventh. Neither seemed to suffer any loss of velocity. Barbato was ringing the radar gun at 96 mph and Jimenez was hitting 97.

The Tigers took a second look at minor-league camp right-hander John Schreiber and he struck out the side in the eighth. The Wyandotte native throws from a side angle with a fastball that hit 93 mph. He also has an assortment of breaking balls and off-speed pitches.

Pena to coach?

The Tigers reassigned veteran catcher Brayan Pena to minor-league camp Friday, and how Pena has a decision to make. Does he want to continue playing or start his coaching career.

“He said someday he’d like to get into this side of it,” Gardenhire said. “He wants to teach, he loves to teach. He’s done it as a player, helping younger players. I know he’s thinking real hard on it and considering it.

“He’ll be good at it, I promise you that.”

Around the horn

At 10 a.m. Friday morning, veteran Francisco Liriano was on the back fields pitching against a team of Tigers’ minor leaguers. It was his third outing with the Tigers and he was sharp. He went five innings (62 pitches, 38 strikes), he allowed a run and three hits, with one walk and three strikeouts.

…Outfield prospect Christin Stewart played in his third game of the spring (invited from minor league camp) and delivered his third hit, an RBI double in the eighth. He’s 3-for-4 in Grapefruit League games.

...The Tigers tied the game on a pair of errors in the bottom of the ninth. The tying run scored on an infield hit by Victor Reyes and a throwing error.

…Former Tigers bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer visited the clubhouse Friday. This is his time in 34 years he’s without a job in professional baseball.