Jordan Zimmermann's tip helps Tigers' Daniel Norris gain immediate uptick in velocity

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris made adjustments in his flat-ground work and in his bullpens, and he was pumping his fastball at 91-93 mph against the Yankees Friday night.

Lakeland, Fla. — Jordan Zimmermann went up to Daniel Norris last week and said, “I know why you aren’t throwing hard.”

The two then went to the video room with pitching coach Rick Anderson and Zimmermann showed Norris a flaw in his delivery — the film showed, conclusively, that he wasn’t finishing his pitches.

“I just wasn’t getting over my front side,” Norris said. “I’ve always had the recoil, but in the past I would at least get through it. Ever since the surgery (groin), I was just hitting the front leg and backing off. The arm recoil is fine, but I was putting my whole body back toward shortstop and second base.”

Norris went into his laboratory, made the adjustments in his flat-ground work and in his bullpens, and my goodness, look at that — he was pumping his fastball at 91-93 mph Friday night against the Yankees.

“A total breakthrough,” Norris said. “It was awesome to see. To go from the bullpen this week to an immediate turn of events was real awesome. We were high-fiving after the bullpen session, then last night to see 93, I hadn’t seen that in a long time.”

Norris pitched a scoreless inning against the Yankees, his breaking pitches crisper, too, than they had been previously.

“I just started working on finishing toward home plate — more toward the on-deck circle,” Norris said. “At least have my momentum forward, forcing myself to finish the pitch. I had been 89-90, then in the bullpen last week, at 8:30 in the morning, I was 90-91. It was like, ‘Holy crap, I wasn’t even trying.’

“Then last night to hit 91-93, I felt like I am on the right track to getting back. It was nice to see. … It was so comfortable. It felt easy. I’d been trying to force it, you know. And I even had angle. When I wanted to go up, I could go up. When I wanted it down, I could get it down.”

Where Norris will end up this season -- in the Tigers' rotation, in the Tigers bullpen, in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo -- is still uncertain. And getting enough innings to build up his pitch count will be tricky going forward.

The Tigers are in the process of stretching out their five starting pitchers — Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, Tyson Ross and Matt Moore. It doesn’t leave a lot of innings for the supposed Nos. 6-7-8 starters.

Norris, Spencer Turnbull,  Ryan Carpenter or Kyle Funkhouser have been piggy-backing innings off those starters in Grapefruit League games. All three pitched Friday night — Norris only throwing an inning. It is presumed that Norris will begin the year in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo.

But it’s not out of the question he could open the season working out of the Tigers’ bullpen.

On Tuesday, Norris will get a start against the Red Sox in Fort Myers. Zimmermann will stay back in Lakeland and get his innings in against minor-league hitters.

"He told me, 'As long as I can help the team in some way, I'm OK,'" Anderson said. "I told him, 'I can't tell you where we're going.' But if we can get him fixed up and yesterday was a step in the right direction, we'll find something for him."

Good news for VerHagen

The tests came back on reliever Drew VerHagen’s ailing shoulder.

“It’s inflammation around that nerve where I had the surgery,” said VerHagen, referencing his surgery in 2016 to repair thoracic outlet syndrome. “That should be easily cleared out in a few days.”

VerHagen will continue to rest his arm and take anti-inflammatory medication until he’s symptom-free.

Twitter: @cmccosky