Detroit — For a man who famously enjoys shacking up in his van, it’s probably no surprise that it was the simplest fix that might’ve gotten him back on track.
Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris recently shortened his stride by just a fraction, and immediately found some positive results, tossing two scoreless innings in Monday night’s 5-1 win over the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.
Norris said the revelation came during a recent live batting practice session last week, during the four days the Tigers were off because of the postponed series with the COVID-19-ravaged St. Louis Cardinals.
Pitching coach Rick Anderson made the suggestion.
“Andy says something, and the next pitch we’re both looking at each other, ‘Oh, that’s it,'” Norris said. “It’s easy to kind of remember that and take it into every pitch afterward.
“I just wasn’t able to work with him for a month when I was gone, then he makes a quick fix.”
Norris, 27, continues to try to find his footing in his seventh major-league season, sixth with the Tigers.
A number of injuries — plus one cancer scare — have dealt him setback after setback, and then this spring, Norris was diagnosed with the coronavirus, costing him weeks of preparation for the season.
He made his 2020 Tigers debut Aug. 2 against the Cincinnati Reds, starting, and was hit around pretty good in his 1⅔ innings. He also walked two.
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Monday was much better, with two strikeouts in two scoreless innings. Norris also showed off his athleticism, taking a carom on a line shot off first baseman C.J. Cron in the fourth inning, scooping it up with his glove and racing to the bag to beat White Sox base runner Danny Mendick.
Norris was banged up on the play, hitting his head and landing on his left shoulder on impact. He was checked and cleared for a concussion, but manager Ron Gardenhire wasn’t taking any chances with the arm.
That’s why he was done after the fifth inning.
“You never know with Danny,” Gardenhire said. “We noticed a little something.
“We didn’t want to risk anything.
“He threw the ball good.”
Norris had surgery on his groin in 2018, and when he came back from that, his focus was on lengthening his stride — a little bit each bullpen and BP session, as he felt more and more comfortable.
But in spring training in 2019, Tigers veteran starter Jordan Zimmermann and then-Tigers reliever Shane Greene suggested he actually needed to start shortening the stride.
Norris was told, on delivery, to try landing on his toes instead of his heel. That, his teammates suggested, would help him get his front side through on the pitch.
But, until recently, he had forgotten all about that, his focus probably more on just getting back on the mound.
“It was literally that bullpen” session, Norris said of last week’s revelation, which carried over into the next live BP session. “The ball was really coming out. I was throwing quite a bit harder than I was in the game. And I took that out to (Monday). It was right there.
“It was kind of an immediate jump in my stuff.”
The Tigers on Monday piggybacked a couple former prospects looking to get back on track, with Michael Fulmer (Tommy John surgery), also in his second outing, going three scoreless innings, followed by Norris.
Gardenhire wouldn’t detail the team’s rotation plans for the long term, given the Tigers’ schedule is in a bit of flux, with Thursday’s doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals canceled, and no clue if and when the Tigers will make up those four games.
There’s also the possibility that while Fulmer is working his way back into the ace role (his velocity also was up significantly Monday), Norris could be seen as a more effective option out of the bullpen down the road, especially when the Tigers’ stable of pitching prospects start working their way to Comerica Park. Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, figures to be the first, but there’s no timetable on that arrival yet.
And if Monday’s results were any indication, the tag team — The Plumber and Van Man — might not be changing anytime soon.
“We’ll figure that one out,” Gardenhire said. “We said that was gonna be the tandem, and we like it.”