DETROIT — They seem to come in bunches for Daniel Norris: dead-arm, thyroid cancer, fractured back. At the risk of sounding repetitive, he is healthy. Again. His injury ended up being a blessing in disguise for him, even though he said it was “frustrating” at times. But on Thursday, he finally made his first start of the season for the Detroit Tigers.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life, that’s one thing that’s — every day I get to wake up and work hard,” he said after Thursday’s win. “That’s been my mindset all year, at some point my time will come and just be ready for it. The time in Toledo’s been good for me. Being there for a reason is, being able to work on stuff.
“The manager down there, Lloyd McClendon, it was awesome for me. Going out of his way to sit me down and talk and say ‘you got this stuff, you’re gonna be fine. Just trust the process.’ I know that stuff, but having it reiterated by him and be reminded is always good.”
Norris was cruising through 3 2/3 innings on Thursday when he hit a wall. It’s happened on occasion since the back injury, so he’s still building his endurance. His last start in Toledo lasted seven innings of no-run ball, but Triple-A doesn’t have nearly the same competition. The Mariners may be struggling but any major league player is going to capitalize on mistake pitches.
Norris found himself worn out after five innings, but it was a good start even though he wasn’t able to pitch deep into the game. The back-to-back home runs allowed were a career-first, but then, he’s been going through a lot of firsts lately — just not the kind you’d want.
When he was given the go-ahead to come off the disabled list, Norris was optioned to Toledo rather than join the Detroit club. Because of the nature of his injury, the Tigers didn’t want to rush him back. So, Norris started out slow, on a pitch count, and in limited doses on the mound. Given what he’s been through over the last nine months, though, that was enough.
“I was just happy to be pitching again,” he said. “After the back injury, just getting back from the rehab starts and stuff, I just wanted to expedite the process and be healthy and pitch in a game again. It was one of those things that just kept lingering, but when I started feeling better, I started having success on the mound.”
What was lingering was back stiffness. At times, a lot of it. His “stuff” was fine and he was able to mix his pitches well enough, but early on his back would limit how long he could go in a game. It would wear him out and affect how he could rotate his body to throw, and there were moments when he couldn’t stand.
That’s since subsided, for the most part. At times, he’ll still feel his back tighten up on him, but it’s not nearly to the extent it had before. It’s a manageable nuisance that Norris can live with, and as he heals and gains endurance, he’ll be able to go deeper into games without the effects of his latest injury.
For now, Norris is just happy to be back in Detroit. Manager Brad Ausmus doesn’t foresee sending him back to Toledo: the team just wants to see how he fares with the Tigers. If Norris can improve on his first start of the year in Detroit, he might not be going anywhere anytime soon.