Daniel Norris 'spot on' early, Tigers still lose
Detroit — Maybe it happens next year — a smooth, relatively stress-free season of baseball for Daniel Norris.
It would be a spring and summer loaded with months in Detroit's rotation rather than with too many weeks on the disabled list.
And it would be spiced by nights and innings where Norris pitches with as much punch as he showed for five innings Tuesday night, even if it wasn't good enough to keep the Twins from a 5-3 topping of the Tigers at Comerica Park.
Norris had a two-hit shutout going after five on an evening when the first-pitch temperature was a September-sweet 81 degrees.
Even after he departed one out into the sixth, he had put together a start that looked like a lot of the baseball Norris has thrown when he's healthy.
"His fastball jumped in and out," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who repeated at least three times Tuesday how much he "liked" a left-handed artist who could make a whopping difference next season. "I thought he threw the ball great."
Even as he continues to hunt for that old 94-mph fastball he regularly flung before disabled-list layoffs began piling up, Norris was crisp Tuesday.
He was at 92 with his four-seam heater, which was plenty good when he generally located it well and matched it with a slider that hitters weren't much enjoying.
"Spot on," Norris said of what most critics would have said Tuesday. "I felt I located my fastball. I changed speeds, and I was spinning my curveball pretty well.
"I got a little tired there in the sixth, leaving the ball up. But I didn't want to come out."
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Norris, of course, has pitched in only nine games this season because of spring groin surgery. He missed May, June, July, and August. He has worked four games this month.
He got into trouble in the sixth when he heaved a bad fastball that Jorge Polanco turned into a leadoff double. With one out, Norris next walked Robbie Grossman ahead of Tyler Austin's line single to center, which came on a change-up that Norris said he "just didn't execute."
That was followed by the game-killer — a single by Jake Cave that most second basemen field but Dawel Lugo wasn't able to locate.
"Could have been a double-play ball, but he just couldn't get to it," Gardenhire said of Lugo's lunge and miss. "He used a drop-step rather than a crossover.
"As he keeps working and we keep working," said Gardenhire, offering a nod to Lugo's first weeks in the big leagues, "that might be a double-play ball."
The Tigers lineup was having reverse issues Tuesday night against Jake Odorizzi.
They batted during the first six innings as if Odorizzi had slipped something into their Gatorade.
In fact, it was Odorizzi's witch's brew of pitches that was tormenting the Tigers.
"He was good," Gardenhire said, emphasizing the last word, "Changing speeds. Fastball jumping by hitters."
The Tigers had one hit through those six innings — an accidental swing from Christin Stewart in the first that led to a poke-check single to left.
They didn't get another hit until the seventh when, with the Tigers down, 5-0, Nick Castellanos dug into Odorizzi for a leadoff single. Jim Adduci added a one-out single, which apparently excited Mahtook, who drove an outer-plate fastball from Odorizzi on a long arc to the extra-terrestrial region of deep right-center.
It went for a triple and two runs scored — the only two the Tigers scored until the ninth, when Victor Martinez singled and Mahtook drove home pinch-runner Victor Reyes with a two-out liner to center and his third RBI of the night.
They finished with six hits on the night and with their second consecutive tumble against the Twins.
If there was any redeeming value to the Tigers' troubles Tuesday, it came, again, by way of their bullpen.
Drew VerHagen showed why Gardenhire said before Tuesday's game that he would trust VerHagen with any late-inning assignment the Tigers care to hand him. VerHagen pitched to two batters after Norris exited and eliminated both, one with a strikeout.
Daniel Stumpf, Victor Alcantara, and Louis Coleman also pitched nearly spotless relief, even if one man didn't.
Sandy Baez has one of the Tigers bullpen's best fastballs. But he showed Tuesday night some of the month's worst location. The Twins got him for three hits and three runs, which included a long homer to left-center from Chris Gimenez, in only two-thirds of an inning.
Gardenhire thought Baez's pitches, even at 96 mph, weren't biting vertically as they had been and instead leaned sideways.
And that's a plane that's going to get crushed in the big leagues.
The Tigers are now 61-90 for 2018. Ten games remain.
Norris, among others, is to be forgiven for thinking better times are ahead in 2019.
"I like him, I like the way he competes," Gardenhire said. "He's a good pitcher with all the pitches you need to compete in this league."