Norris' winter adventure to include pitching in Dominican and Japan
Minneapolis — Daniel Norris is rather famous for his offseason adventures. Usually they involve an old hippie van, a few surfboards and an ocean.
This winter will be very different. Norris is going on a work adventure. The plan is for him to make two or three starts for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League, and then maybe another two or three with a team of Major Leaguers barnstorming through Japan.
“I am really excited,” said Norris, who will make his final start of the season Saturday in Milwaukee. “I just need to get some more innings before next year. This works out perfectly.”
Norris missed four months after groin surgery this season, so, counting his rehab outings and his five starts since coming back off the disabled list, he has pitched 51.1 innings this season. The Tigers figure if he can throw another 40 or 50 this winter, he will be built up enough to pitch nearly a full season next year.
“It’s a progression every year,” pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “He’s starting to do some really good things. He’s building his strength. But we don’t want him to be sitting at 40 innings (he’s thrown 39.2 for the Tigers this season) coming into next season.
“We wouldn’t want to stretch him from 40 to 140 in one year.”
If Norris can throw up to 50 innings this offseason, then the Tigers could target him for 150 innings or so next season, which would be 50 more than he’s thrown in any big-league season.
“Honestly, I am back pitching and we didn’t think that was going to happen,” Norris said. “I’m just happy to be back. But I’m not quite who I am yet. The velocity is still waiting to come back. Before and after surgery, I created some bad habits, just because I wasn’t able to move the way I normally can.”
Norris, whose fastball was clocking at 93-94 mph last season, has been at 89-91 mph this season.
“I am still building strength,” he said. “It’d be one thing if I went out there feeling really, really good, feeling strong and normal and I was throwing 91. But I don’t. I feel way off. I know when I feel good it’s going to come back.”
The extra work this winter should facilitate that.
“He just needs to pitch,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s all it is, he hasn’t pitched enough. We’re talking about a high-level guy, a big-league guy who needs more innings to figure things out a little bit.”
The Tigers, and Norris, were extremely encouraged by his bullpen session on Wednesday.
“I’m telling you right now, he threw a bullpen (Wednesday) that was one of the best I’ve seen, one of the top five, I’ve seen out here,” Anderson said. “He was getting full arm extension and was throwing the ball well. He didn’t miss a spot.”
Norris wasn’t throwing close to full-throttle, but he said his fastball was still clocking at 89 mph and his spin rate was increased.
“It was more about keeping the fastball true and finishing right,” he said. “I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ That was definitely a step in the right direction.”
On Aug. 7, Tigers lefty Daniel Stumpf’s ERA was an unlucky 7.11. He had given up 20 runs in 25.1 innings, with 15 walks. Opponents were hitting .333 with a .565 slugging percentage against him.
Unsurprisingly, he was sent to Triple-A Toledo to get right. He got right.
In the 14 games since he returned on Aug. 19, he’s not allowed an earned run in 12.1 innings, stranding all nine runners he’s inherited. He’s allowed just one extra base hit. Opponents are hitting .163 and slugging .186 against him.
“For me, I was struggling and I wasn’t getting to pitch as much, so when I got sent down, I didn’t take it as a bad deal,” Stumpf said. “I took it as time to go down and be able to pitch, get my reps in and show them that once I got out there more frequently, I am better. I can throw.”
He also made a mechanical fix. He missed some time earlier in the year with a nerve issue in his elbow, and when he came back, he was having difficulty getting on top of his pitches. The result was his slider was breaking horizontally instead of down.
“In spring training, he was up on top and the ball was going down in the zone,” Gardenhire said. “It was just a mechanical thing. He was coming off the side and the ball was sliding across the plate. Any time the ball goes across the plane of the zone, it has three times as much chance of getting hit as when it’s going down.”
Stumpf worked with Anderson and then Toledo pitching coach Jeff Pico to fix the problem.
“They helped me get better extension and stay on the top,” Stumpf said. “That’s helped me loosen and free up my shoulder, to where I was getting the better extension, getting my chest over the front knee. That’s helped with everything — the slider, change-up and fastball.”
It’s also helped his velocity. He was at 91-92 mph earlier this season. Now he’s pumping 95 mph consistently.
“I went down there and I threw consistently, got my reps and then it was like, ‘Let me get back up (to the big leagues),'” Stumpf said. “You see what needs to happen. I pitched two innings that first day back and I started getting more consistent work. That’s a huge deal.
“I never didn’t trust my stuff and I never lost confidence.”
Gardenhire said Thursday that there has been no further discussion about third baseman Jeimer Candelario having surgery on his left wrist this offseason.
“I haven’t heard one word about that,” Gardenhire said. “That will be something we’ll find out for sure about at the end of the season. Our trainers will get together with everybody and go over every player. But we’re not there yet.”
On deck: Brewers
Series: Three-game series at Miller Park, Milwaukee
First pitch: Friday — 8:10 p.m.; Saturday — 7:10 p.m.; Sunday — 3:10 p.m.
TV/radio: All games on FSD/97.1
Probables: Friday — RHP Zach Davies (2-7, 4.65) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-8, 4.31); Saturday — LHP Wade Miley (5-2, 2.32) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (0-5, 5.22); Sunday — TBA vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (0-1, 5.73).
Davies, Brewers: This will be his fourth start since returning from a shoulder injury. He has posted a 3.32 ERA with opponents hitting .250 off him in those starts. He’s a finesse pitcher, throwing a 90-mph fastball more than 50 percent of the time, mixing in a cutter, change-up and curve.
Zimmermann, Tigers: He found a nice rhythm against the Royals in his last start, holding them to two runs and three hits over seven innings. He had pinpoint command of his four-seam fastball and slider.