Kansas City, Mo. — If nothing else — and there is plenty else — Daniel Norris at age 26 has learned to stop micro-managing and beating himself up after his outings. He’s learned, as he prepares to make his 16th start of the season on Monday in Cleveland, to not only see the bright side, but accept it.
“That’s the thing I’ve really taken out of this year so far,” he said. “In the past, if I gave up five or six runs, I’d hang my head for a few days. Now I can kind of immediately process it and see, ‘I did a lot of good things today.’
“Like, if one pitch brought those results, then I am one pitch away from having a good start.”
That’s really been the theme of his season thus far — one bad pitch, one bad inning and his day is spoiled.
► July 3 at Chicago, he blew through a clean fifth inning and the Tigers trailed 4-3 entering the sixth. Norris walked the first two batters and both of those runners eventually scored after he was removed.
► June 23 at Cleveland, he went seven innings for the first time in a couple of years and struck out eight, but the outing was marred by several defensive misplays in a five-run second inning.
► June 1 at Atlanta, two bad pitches, two two-run home runs.
► May 17 against Oakland, it’s a 3-1 game with one out in the sixth and Chad Pinder whacks a three-run home run to end his day.
“My whole goal this year was to take a step forward every time out,” Norris said. “And I can honestly say I think I’ve done that. The last start in Chicago, that was the first time I was killing myself after the game, just because I walked the last two guys I faced.
“Other than that, regardless of the numbers, I feel like every game I’ve taken a step forward, just mentally and physically with pitching. That’s been my goal and that’s not going to change.”
In a way, everything Norris has done to this point — 15 starts, 90.2 innings — has been a bonus for the Tigers. The Tigers had no idea what they would get from him entering the season. He’d come off two injury-plagued seasons and was still regaining his lower-body strength after groin surgery in 2018.
There was no guarantee his fastball velocity would return to the 93-94 mph range it was when the Tigers acquired him and Matthew Boyd from Toronto for David Price in 2015. He left spring training as one of the team’s long relievers before an injury to Matt Moore thrust him into the rotation.
And here we are, on the eve of his 16th start. The velocity is still sitting at 90 mph, though he has been able to hit 93 on occasion, but his slider (.196 opponents’ average) and change-up have been good weapons. He’s given the Tigers three quality starts and nine in which he’s allowed three runs or less.
Still, he’s allowed a career-high 15 home runs, a career-high .293 opponents’ batting average and is in the bottom 7 percent in terms of exit velocity of balls put in play against him.
“I think the results will follow, at some point,” Norris said. “Even so, I feel for the most part the results have been fine. A couple of games have gotten away, but even in those games where I gave up five or six runs, it’s like, ‘Dang, I feel like I threw the ball better than that.’”
The more aerodynamic baseball Major League Baseball is using hasn’t helped, for sure.
“I don’t think there’s been any difference in throwing it; it feels the same,” Norris said. “Not to get into the whole juiced ball thing, but you can just see it. It’s pretty obvious. If somebody tries to deny it, it’s kind of silly.
“I’m getting different callouses on my fingers, not sure what that’s from. But as far as spinning the ball, it’s all the same. They all feel the same, they just fly farther.”
It will be 12 days between starts when he finally takes the ball at Progressive Field Monday.
“I’ve been throwing every day, so I feel good,” he said. “I don’t want a break like that, but I know there is an innings (watch) going on, so for me, it’s worked out for the better. It feels like a long time, but because of the All-Star break, it’s not really. Everybody got more of a break than they normally would.
“I just went home and continued to do what I’ve been doing (between starts). I’ve been feeling pretty good, so it’s just trying to keep going.”
Soto sent down
In a somewhat curious move, the Tigers optioned lefty Gregory Soto to Triple-A Toledo after Sunday's 12-8 win over the Royals. They are expected to add another pitcher before Monday's game in Cleveland.
"We're sending him back to pitch," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He needs to get some innings in."
Soto, who had made seven spot starts, was moved to the bullpen after the All-Star break and pitched three scoreless innings on Friday.
He was asked through interpreter Carlos Guillen if the move took him by surprise.
"A little bit," he said.
Soto was asked if the Tigers sent him down so he could stay stretched out as a starter.
"They didn't say anything to me," he said. "I don't know if I am going to be a starter or reliever. I am just going to be ready for everything."
The Tigers, who are operating with a four-man rotation, will need to use a fifth starter on Tuesday. It was expected that Ryan Carpenter would be called up for that one. But now that plan may be changing.
Around the horn
Harold Castro produced the first four-hit game of his career on Sunday, and he is the first Tiger since Ian Kinsler in 2017 to get two hits in one inning.
"I am excited about it," he said. "My first four-hit game in the Major Leagues. But it's more exciting because I helped my team win."
... Royals' Jorge Soler has punished Tigers pitching all season. He had a two-run home run and an RBI double Sunday. He's now hitting .382 (18-for-47) with four home runs and 14 RBIs against the Tigers this season.
... Gordon Beckham's home run in the third inning was his first since April 21.
On deck: Indians
Series: Four-game series at Progressive Field, Cleveland
First pitch: Monday-Thursday — 7:10 p.m.
TV/radio: Monday-Thursday — FSD/97.1
Probables: Monday — LHP Daniel Norris (2-8, 4.96) vs. RHP Adam Plutko (3-1, 4.95); Tuesday — TBA vs. TBA; Wednesday — RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-8, 3.59) vs. RHP Mike Clevinger (2-2, 3.99); Thursday — LHP Matthew Boyd (6-7, 3.95) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (8-7, 3.65).
►Norris, Tigers: It will be 12 days between starts for Norris, which, although he detests the inactivity, might be a blessing for him. The Tigers are going to start monitoring his innings in about a month anyway. He went seven innings at Cleveland on June 23, his longest outing, and struck out eight. But he was also touched for six runs.
►Plutko, Indians: Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Dixon hit back-to-back home runs against him back in June, but he still won the game, striking out six over six innings. He throws his fastball (91 mph) 61 percent of the time. Opponents are hitting .300 or better against both his slider and change-up.