Detroit — Hard to believe it was just a little over a year ago that the Tigers said goodbye to Daniel Norris, trading him to Milwaukee at the deadline.
But here we are, 13 months and two teams later, Daniel Norris is back. Manager AJ Hinch confirmed Thursday that Norris’ contract will be purchased from Triple-A Toledo and he will start for the Tigers on Friday against the White Sox.
“He’s going to start tomorrow and the game in Cleveland (Wednesday),” Hinch said. “He’s very excited to come back. He had a really good game (for Toledo last weekend), four innings. We still need to monitor his workload, but it’s nice to have a familiar face come back to help us.”
Norris, 29, was released by the Brewers last winter and signed with the Cubs. He was used exclusively in relief in both places. The opportunity to return to a starting role was one of the enticements to sign back with the Tigers on a minor-league deal on July 26.
“In talking to him, it’s been quite a year for him,” Hinch said. “He lost the strike zone early and in trying to do a lot of different things and avoid hard contact and home runs, he started chasing his own tail a little bit. When he came here he was committed to getting back into the strike zone and he’s been throwing more strikes.”
Norris, who came to the Tigers from Toronto with Matthew Boyd in 2015 for David Price, made 139 appearances between 2015 and 2021, 77 of them starts. In his three starts with Toledo, he’s allowed just two runs with five strikeouts and two walks. He blew through his four innings Sunday in 44 pitches.
His ERA the last two years has been over 6.00, but underneath that, he limited hitters to a .227 average in 2021 and .207 this season. In 30 innings with the Cubs, he had a strikeout rate of 32%.
“His slider has been pretty good and his changeup has always been good,” Hinch said. “He said his body feels the best it’s felt. I told him, ‘We have a small opportunity for you, take it and run with it.’ He was excited to get the call.”
Pineda to Toledo rehab
Right-hander Michael Pineda came through his simulated innings Wednesday with no residual discomfort and is scheduled to start a rehab assignment at Toledo. The tentative plan is for him to start Tuesday and Sunday.
“I feel almost 100%,” said Pineda, who is battling back after a broken finger and triceps soreness.
Hinch said the rehab assignment would be a minimum of two starts. He will need to build up to at least five innings.
“He was definitely interested in pitching in the big leagues and working his way back and build up here,” Hinch said. “But we’re not going to do that.”
The bullpen is already over-taxed with so many starters going five innings or less. Tyler Alexander and Matt Manning each went seven innings back-to-back before Drew Hutchison went five on Wednesday. Before that, a Tigers’ starter went more than five innings just once in 11 games.
“It’s been a bit of a puzzle to put together,” Hinch said. “It feels like it’s been one new injury after another. The hardest part has been the eagerness to get healthy bodies back into the rotation and yet have them be durable enough to go five innings, six innings.
“It’s one thing to get guys back and feel like, on paper, we look like a team coming back together health-wise. But if I have to pull him out after four or five innings because of the pitch count, it puts a burden on the bullpen. That’s been a problem for us.”
As it is, Norris will on an innings limit Friday. Then, in the doubleheader at Cleveland Monday, the Tigers will use a 27th man — tentatively lefty Joey Wentz — and that will also be a restricted-innings start.
“That creates issues for you over time,” Hinch said. “But that is our reality.”
Around the horn
Miguel Cabrera was out of the lineup for the second straight day Thursday, but that was part of the pre-written plan. Hinch said Cabrera will DH Friday against the White Sox, as well as two of the four games in Cleveland. They will draw up a new plan after that series.
…Outfielder Austin Meadows got two hits in six at-bats in his first rehab game with Toledo on Wednesday. “Just getting him on the field was nice,” Hinch said. “We all told him when he was here, we need him back. We need his presence and his bat. It’s just nice to see his name in a box score and not a rehab chart.”
… The Tigers optioned rookie right-hander Luis Castillo to Toledo after the game Thursday to clear a spot on the active roster for Norris. They still need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, as well.
…Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez made a successful first rehab start at Triple-A Toledo Thursday night. He covered five scoreless innings in just 53 pitches, allowing one hit and a walk with six strikeouts.
On deck: White Sox
► Series: Three games at Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago
► First pitch: Friday-Saturday — 7:10 p.m.; Sunday — 2:10 p.m.
► TV/radio: All three games on Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Probables: Friday — LHP Daniel Norris (0-4, 6.90 with Cubs) vs. RHP Michael Kopech (4-8, 3.38); Saturday — RHP Matt Manning (0-0, 2.25) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (8-6, 4.91); Sunday — LHP Tyler Alexander (2-6, 3.83) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (2-5, 5.88).
► Norris, Tigers: He’s back. Norris pitched parts of seven seasons with the Tigers before being dealt to Milwaukee at the deadline last year. He started the season with the Cubs and transitioned back to a starting role after signing back with the Tigers late in July.
► Kopech, White Sox: This will be the Tigers’ third crack at him. They didn’t do much against him in the first two (three runs in nine innings). His best pitch, a riding fastball, has been the Tigers’ kryptonite for much of the season. He not only throws a firm four-seamer (94-95 mph) but he has elite spin on it (2,527 rpm). Opponents are hitting just .203 against it, whiffing on every fourth swing.