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Tigers' Daniel Norris grateful to be freed from COVID-19 imprisonment

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cincinnati — Daniel Norris sat outside on his porch Tuesday, drinking a cup of coffee, listening to the birds chirping, looking very much like a man at peace.

That’s what happens when you are set free after 28 days of COVID-19 imprisonment.

“I was up until 4:30 in the morning,” he said. “It felt like Christmas morning. I’ve been praying a lot, hoping and praying.”

Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris (right) has been cleared to return to the team after testing positive for COVID-19.

Norris, the Tigers’ lefty, got the news Monday afternoon that he’d finally been cleared of the virus protocol and could return to the team. He threw a bullpen Tuesday at Comerica Park and is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Thursday.

After that, who knows?

“I should be ready to rock,” he said. “I won’t join the team in Cincinnati, but I am stretched out to like 65 pitches. I’m just excited to put the uniform back on.”

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, at the request of pitching coach Rick Anderson, pumped the brakes a little bit on Norris making a quick return.

"We all know he worked hard, but there is a difference in working on your own and getting out in the sun and doing all the leg work," Gardenhire said. "He's got work to do here. He's got to prepare and I know he wants to rush, but that's just not what we're going to do.

"He threw today and looked good, but he's going to do that a few more times and face hitters in Toledo and get his legs underneath him. He's going to do the same program all the other pitchers went through and get himself up to four or five innings facing hitters."

Norris first tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida on June 23. He believes he contracted it during or just after a sunset surf in Coco Beach.

“I was super-bummed, but my symptoms had cleared up by that time," he said. "I felt it for like two days … I was taking precautions, you know. I figured I was doing enough to not get it. It definitely shocks you. I wasn’t really scared, but I was like, when can I come back? I was just counting the days and it turned into over a month.

“I was pretty bummed.”

The mental anguish was by far rougher than the physical distress.

“I don’t even have words,” he said. “The weirdest part was feeling good and wanting to be out there, sharing smiles and having a catch with my teammates, all the clubhouse hangs and all of that. But at the end of the day, I am just grateful it wasn’t any worse.

“…I feel fortunate. Yeah I tested positive, but it wasn’t that bad for me. Just the mental aspect of it and not being able to go on the field. I love spring training, it’s so much fun, even if it’s just a camp set-up like we had. The hardest part was not being able to be there and just sitting on my porch watching the livestreams of the games.”

It’s not in Norris’ nature to sit and mope. First, he kept his body in shape working out to a fitness app created by actor Chris Hemsworth (Thor).

“It’s a great workout called ‘Center,’” he said. “That’s not a plug, I wish it was a plug. I wish we were friends.”

So, ‘Chuck’ Norris, as manager Ron Gardenhire calls him, is coming back with Thor strength. He also did yoga and the martial-arts training he’s done for two years. But mostly, he threw baseballs against a chain-link fence at a field near his home.

“I got a bag of balls and if I had a bullpen scheduled that day, I’d go throw 30 pitches against the fence,” he said. “If I would’ve been scheduled to start that day — I had it all mapped out in my head. Didn’t want to miss a beat — I’d simulate hitters and how I wanted to pitch to them.

“I got everybody out (laughter).”

He also got some weird looks from dog-walkers and neighbors passing by as he grunted and grinded, trying to locate his pitches against the imaginary hitter up against the fence.

“You kind of gain that perspective of, like, you really have to lock it in,” he said. “You can easily just go through the motions just throwing a ball against a fence. But it really helps the mind. Like somebody walks by walking the dog and I’m locking in trying to get my slider down and away.

“People walking by are like, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘Nothing.’”

It remains to be seen how soon the Tigers will reinstate him into the rotation. As it is now, with Jordan Zimmermann on the injured list, they are two starters down. The tentative plan was to use Tyler Alexander and Michael Fulmer, perhaps both in tandem with each other or another long reliever.

Norris has waited this long, he can wait a few more days. But not much more, it sounds like.

“You guys know me well enough, I got one speed,” he said. “I was back at it today going hard and feeling good. Honestly, it just feels great to be able to put the uniform on again.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky