'Step in the right direction:' Daniel Norris shines in first start, Tigers trip White Sox
Detroit — Nobody is calling it an audition. The Tigers know what Daniel Norris is capable of. That’s why they insisted on him being part of the package when they traded David Price to Toronto in 2015.
But, healthy now after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, it’s showtime.
“He needs to go out and earn his keep, just like every starting pitcher,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game Sunday.
Earn keep — check.
Norris, in his first start of the season, pitched five scoreless, two-hit innings in the Tigers’ 4-3 win over the White Sox. It was his first win since he shut out the Royals (also on two hits over five innings) on Sept. 28, 2017.
"I feel pretty honored to come out here on Easter Sunday and have fun and glorify the Lord," Norris said. "It's a step in the right direction, for sure. I'm not satisfied, but it was very encouraging for myself and for all the work Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and I put in."
The Tigers took two of the three games from the White Sox this weekend and are back at .500 (10-10) as they embark on a three-city trip to Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.
“I want to see what he can do, we need to see what this guy can do,” Gardenhire said of Norris. “We’ve talked about it now for the two years I’ve been here, about what a big prospect he was. He’s been hurt, injuries happen in this game.
“But now we’ve got to see what he can do when we put him out there every fifth day. He’ll decide, not me, whether we think he’s a starter or reliever. But I think he deserves an opportunity.”
That’s all he’s ever asked for.
"It was just a matter of getting all the pitches out there and being effective with them," said Norris, who needed just 79 pitches to get through the five innings. "I thought my fastball command was the best it's been in a while. If I wanted to go down and away, I could without it cutting back over the middle."
He threw 51 four-seam fastballs, ranging in velocity from 89 to 93 mph, and he got three swings and misses and 12 called strikes with them. He threw 11 change-ups, nine sliders and eight curve balls. The average exit velocity on the balls the White Sox put in play was 88.5 mph.
"When you are commanding four pitches like he was, it makes my job a lot easier and his," catcher John Hicks said. "We were able to follow the scouting report and use pitches we knew they didn't hit well."
Norris seems to be at peace now with his velocity. After groin surgery last year, he hasn't been able to get back up into the mid-90s like he did before. His striving to get that velocity back had a negative impact on his mechanics.
"I think I was trying to create velocity with just my body," Norris said.
He and Anderson had kind of a Eureka moment during Norris' bullpen last week. Anderson got him to take some of the twisting out of his motion, slow it down and save his energy for the release.
"We talked about going slow, slow, slow, then explode out front," Norris said. "It not only helped with my pitches, but it helped with my process. Instead of trying to throw three pitches as one, I could breathe through my delivery.
"I felt like I could compete on every pitch instead of going too fast."
Norris said he felt like he could trust the flight of the ball on his pitches, something he wasn't able to do before. And, happy byproduct, his fastball had more life.
"His fastball plays up," Hicks said. "It might say 91-92, but it plays so much harder than that. And you can tell by looking at the swings. Even if it's a strike, they are behind it. We can use that and pitch off it.
"He's got a high spin rate and he's got a little funk to his windup. And with the spin, it just jumps on guys."
Norris left with a 2-0 lead, and it got to be 4-0 before things got a little tense in the eighth.
Jeimer Candelario tripled and scored. Miguel Cabrera and Niko Goodrum knocked in runs, Nick Castellanos doubled and scored twice and Brandon Dixon, in his Tigers debut, had two singles and an RBI.
What ended up being the game-winner, though, was former White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham's solo home run in the seventh inning. Filling in for injured shortstop Jordy Mercer (quad strain), Beckham has three home runs.
He's also 8-for-20 with two homers against his former club.
"He's a veteran," Gardenhire said. "I don't worry about him. I just put him out there. The home runs are kind of a surprise. He's not this big bopper, but he can put a really nice swing on the ball.
"But I just want him to catch the ball and make the plays he's supposed to make, and he's done that, wherever I put him."
Buck Farmer and Blaine Hardy each record four straight outs between the sixth and eighth innings. But with two outs and nobody on in the eighth, the White Sox strung together three softly-struck singles off Hardy to make a 4-1 game.
Victor Alcantara was summoned to face right-handed hitting Tim Anderson. Alcantara’s first pitch got past catcher Hicks, allowing the second run to score. It was scored a wild pitch.
Tim Anderson then fisted a 1-2 pitch into left field to make it 4-3.
Closer Shane Greene put an end to the drama, though, pitching a clean ninth to earn his 10th save.
"Huge win," Norris said. "It's always fun watching Greeney pitch. I am just glad I could help getting him the ball with a lead."