Decision to stick with Daniel Norris in 6th inning cost Tigers' Gardenhire some sleep

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Atlanta — It was another sleepless night for Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire.

“I told my wife I’m not going to bed tonight,” he said. “That’s how a manager lives.”

Still roiling around in his head was the decision to leave starting pitcher Daniel Norris in the game to face Braves rookie Austin Riley in the sixth inning Saturday. The Tigers trailed 4-3 and Norris was at 91 pitches after walking left-handed hitting Nick Markakis with one out.

Tigers starter Daniel Norris, shown here in a game earlier this season, allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits in 5.1 innings Saturday in Atlanta.

Norris had gotten Riley out twice using an assortment of change-ups and breaking balls.

“Me and Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Oh crap, here we go,’” Gardenhire said. “But I just said, we’ve got to see if he can get through this. He didn’t.”

Norris threw Riley an 0-1 two-seam fastball that stayed over the heart of the plate and Riley put it in the seats.

“Daniel knew it,” Gardenhire said. “He came in after the game and said, ‘That’s on me. I got the guy out twice and I knew how I was supposed to pitch him, and I threw one right out and over the middle of the plate.’  You’ve got to make a better pitch than that.

“Yes, I should’ve taken him out — if I’d have known he was going to throw one out over the plate and it was going to end up in the seats.”

One of the challenges of managing a rebuilding team, as Gardenhire knows all too well, is you grapple with two sometimes contradictory objectives — trying to win games while continuing the process of developing players.

“I just think sometimes we’re going to have to let these guys fight through it,” Gardenhire said. “I can’t keep going to the bullpen for three innings every freakin’ night and survive. Sometimes these guys are going to have to bow their neck and do it.

“I mean, that’s the nightmare for a manager. We say he has to get through this inning and ‘bam,’ Now he’s out of the game and I’m the one walking out there to get him. I’m the one who left him in, so I feel worse than he does, I promise you.”

The Tigers went through this process already with Matthew Boyd, and before the injuries, Michael Fulmer. Boyd has completed at least six innings in 10 of his 12 starts. The reality is there isn’t enough pitching depth for most teams to simply accept the analytics and commit to never letting starting pitchers go through a lineup three times.

“The middle of the third time through the lineup, I don’t give a (crap), he still got Riley out twice,” Gardenhire said. “The next guy had gotten two hits off him. I was more worried about Ozzie Albies … I felt bad about it. I didn’t sleep well thinking about that.”

The thinking changes, Gardenhire said, depending on whether the Tigers are leading or trailing.

“When you are leading, you can’t gamble as much,” he said.

Norris, to his credit, did not pass the buck. He, like Boyd, is hungry to finish his starts. The X-factor on Saturday, though, was that he got an infield hit in the top of the fifth inning and went first to third on a double by Niko Goodrum.

He was a little more physically spent at 91 pitches than he might normally be.

“It comes down to execution, more than anything,” Norris said. “My stuff was good the third time through the order. If anything, maybe I was just a little tired. It was a hot day and I was running the bases, which you’re not used to.

“But it’s on me. I need to finish. If I keep that ball in the yard and get those last two outs, we’re having a different conversation right now.”

On-the-job training in the big leagues is not unlike physical-fitness training — no pain, no gain.

No word on Miggy

Gardenhire said the results of Miguel Cabrera's MRI have been sent to several doctors. 

"But a lot of doctors don't read things on the weekend," he joked.

Cabrera took treatment on his ailing right knee Sunday and will continue to take treatment Monday, an off-day for the Tigers. Gardenhire said no decision would be made until the doctors weigh in. 

But at this point, it seems inevitable Cabrera will go on the 10-day injured list.

Around the horn

Dansby Swanson's third-inning home run snapped Matthew Boyd's consecutive scoreless inning streak at 14. He struck out nine in five innings, getting 17 swings and misses (seven each with his fastball and slider) and also 10 called strikes with the slider.

... Reliever Nick Ramirez pitched two more perfect innings Sunday. He has now retired 15 straight batters in two outings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ramirez is the first Tigers' reliever to make his big-league debut with six straight appearances of at least two innings.

Twitter: @cmccosky