Four years after trade, Boyd and Norris have swapped places on Tigers' totem pole

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. – This may have not been the scenario the Tigers envisioned back in 2015 when they traded David Price to Toronto for two left-handed pitching prospects – Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd, in that order.

Matthew Boyd

Norris was the more highly-touted prospect at that time.  

Flash ahead to Sunday, the final Grapefruit League game of the spring at Publix Field. Norris got the start on the main field, but that’s because Boyd, who has already built his pitch count beyond 90 pitches and is secure as the No. 2 starter in the rotation, was tapering off on the back fields against minor-league hitters.

Another factor in moving Boyd to the back fields: His first regular-season start is expected to be in Toronto against these same Blue Jays on Friday. No sense in giving the Blue Jays hitters a free showcase.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 18, Blue Jays 6

So, under the watchful gaze of manager Ron Gardenhire, Boyd threw 51 pitches and 35 strikes over four innings. He allowed a run, three hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

“It was completely useful,” Boyd said. “I haven’t really done that on the big-league side where you can rollover innings and create situations and work on things. We didn’t have to do that today, but we worked on everything.

“We worked on the curveball and the fastball – everything, really. It was a good day.”

The back-field setting helped reinforce one of Boyd’s pitching axioms – the environment should never matter.

“The setting shouldn’t matter, right?” he said “You are going to have the extreme settings, like the World Series and then like today with 10 people in the stands. And your game has to be the same. Just go out and be in control of everything.”

He did just that.

“I’m ready,” he said.

Daniel Norris

As for Norris, he’s likely to start the season in the Tigers' bullpen, but that could be a temporary assignment.

The Tigers have not announced any definite plan, but Norris will likely go north on Friday, taking the roster spot of reliever Drew VerHagen, who will start the season on the injured list (forearm strain).

The longer view for Norris, though, is most likely as the No. 6 starter in the organization – going to Triple-A Toledo when VerHagen returns.

Does Norris know the plan?

"Yeah, but I can't say," he said. "I'm not going to say. I've known for a while. Either way, I just want to pitch, and I want to pitch like I did the last three batters there. The results weren't what I wanted, but I felt really good."

Getting the start in the main game – an 18-6 romp for the Tigers -- allowed him to keep building his pitch count and locking in his rhythm with his new mechanics. He ended up throwing 77 pitches (44 strikes) in four innings.

He gave up five runs and six hits. He walked three.

"Everything is good," Gardenhire said. "His health is good and that's the biggest thing that we've seen. There were some mechanical things he's been working on with Rick (Anderson, pitching coach) that's he gotten a little better one.

"Working on getting that recoil out of his delivery, which will allow him to get more extension and that's when the velocity will go up. He just centered too many pitches today."

Norris did touch 94 mph with his fastball Sunday. But that was in the fourth inning, after he’d allowed three runs. His blood was running a little hot at that point.

“I think I just got (mad) and sad, ‘Screw it,’ honestly,” Norris said. “I was nibbling too much. I was trying to make perfect pitches. Those last three hitters, I just said, ‘I’m going to throw with conviction and let it eat.”

He was sitting at 91-92 for the most part.

"It sounds so superficial, but it feels really good,” Norris said. “You can say, 'Oh, velocity doesn't matter,' but it does. They want to see that. I knew they wanted to see that. You guys have written about it. It's definitely a relief to see that.”

Twitter @cmccosky