Why Detroit Tigers reliever Daniel Norris isn’t focused on starting again this season

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris loves to operate out of the starting rotation.

That’s why the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the second round (No. 74 overall) of the 2011 draft, and why the Tigers made sure he was packaged with lefty Matthew Boyd in the David Price deal at the 2015 trade deadline.

The expectation was for him to become a long-term member of the starting rotation, and Norris, 27, got numerous opportunities to do so throughout his seven-year career. But most recently, he has become a shining piece of the Tigers’ bullpen — posting 11⅓ innings with two runs on six hits with 11 strikeouts and one walk since being removed from his starting role.

“It is different, but it’s not as much of a problem as I thought it might be,” Norris said Sunday, after throwing 3⅔ scoreless innings in a 7-4 win against the Cleveland Indians. “You just kind of get the ball and start ripping. I get loose pretty quick and ready to go whenever.”

Last season, Norris made 29 of his 32 appearances as a starter, delivering a 4.49 ERA, 1.330 WHIP and 125 strikeouts to 38 walks. 

Norris had a chance in the rotation this year upon returning from a COVID-19 diagnosis, which forced him to miss summer camp and the first week of games. He extended his pitch limit at the alternate training site in Toledo before receiving the call to start Aug. 2 for Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds.

[ Tigers’ Daniel Norris ‘ready to rock,’ thanks to inspiration from ‘Thor’ ]

His performance was underwhelming.

Self-admittedly too amped up for his first game back, he allowed two runs on four hits and two walks in 1⅔ innings. Five days later, manager Ron Gardenhire sent him to the bullpen in favor of fellow left-hander Tyler Alexander.

Despite his removal, Norris isn’t using the situation as a chip on his shoulder to succeed out of the bullpen.

That’s coming naturally.

[ Daniel Norris back up to speed — even with almost no warmup ]

“I love starting, but I wouldn’t say that’s a driving force,” he said. “Driving force is just getting people out. And I’m pretty psyched on what I’ve been working on with (pitching coach Rick Anderson). There’s a spin-off in the mechanics and stuff, but, no, I’m not too worried about that.

“I just want to win ball games.”

Carson Fulmer to Pirates

Four days after right-hander Carson Fulmer was designated for assignment, the Pittsburgh Pirates swooped in to add the reliever to their roster from waivers. In seven games with the Tigers, Fulmer allowed five runs on eight hits and three walks in 6⅔ innings. He recorded seven strikeouts.

He was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Chicago White Sox, where he spent four seasons in the majors, but was designated for assignment July 23 and added by the Tigers two days later.

Fulmer has a career 6.57 ERA in 101⅓ innings across 51 games (15 starts). He has logged 90 strikeouts, 67 walks and a 1.638 WHIP. To make room for Fulmer on the 40-man roster, the Pirates designated outfielder Guillermo Heredia for assignment. 

[ Carson Fulmer grew up a Tigers fan. Now they are his second chance ]

Isaac Paredes’ day off

Despite going 3-for-4 in Sunday’s win, Gardenhire is giving third baseman Isaac Paredes — a right-handed hitter — a break for Monday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, who will toss right-hander Alec Mills. Taking Paredes’ place is switch-hitter Willi Castro. He gets the start at third base and will bat ninth in the lineup.

“It’s just more the left-handed, right-handed splits on this guy,” Gardenhire said. “This guy’s got some pretty good breaking stuff.”

Right-handers have a .164 batting average against Mills; lefties are .262 with 10 doubles, one triple and four homers. This year, Castro is 8-for-32 (.276) with two home runs and five RBIs in nine games. 

[ How Isaac Paredes adjusted to lift Tigers with grand slam ]

In six games this season, Paredes is 5-for-20 with one homer and six RBIs. 

Handling Casey Mize

Right-hander Casey Mize makes his Comerica Park debut Monday against the Cubs, and Gardenhire plans to let him take control of the game until he gets to 80-90 pitches.

“He’s been stretched out a little more than (left-hander Tarik Skubal), so that’s what he’s got going for him,” Gardenhire said Monday. “He’s stretched out a little more, so he should be able to get in the second half of the game.”

[ Here’s what Casey Mize will showcase in his second start ]

In Mize’s MLB debut Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox, he departed after 73 pitches across 4⅓ innings. He gave up three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts. 

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content. 

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