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Don’t give up on Daniel Norris just yet

Despite yet another setback, we could still see Norris reach his potential with the Tigers.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Hope can be a fleeting thing. With hope comes expectations, and as time passes and the reality doesn’t live up to those expectations, you can start to lose that hope. That’s no more apparent than in the droves of “can’t miss” prospects that are unceremoniously discarded out of the baseball machine every year, reflexively replaced by something that will hopefully be better than the last. That’s a good one sentence summation of the baseball process, and how teams handle the uncertainty and randomness that life constantly throws at you.

Within the last three seasons, it’s not hard to see why the Detroit Tigers’ hopes for Daniel Norris to hit his ceiling are eroding, just as they have with so many prospects before him. His most recent outing, which resulted in aggravating a previously injured groin to the point that it will require surgery and keep him out of action for 8-12 weeks, didn’t help matters.

Sunday afternoon’s game against the Orioles at Camden Yards was an ironic juxtaposition to Norris’ first appearance as a Tiger, which was also in Baltimore in 2015. The spectacular Superman-esque diving catch he made on that hot August afternoon and the solid seven starts that followed were the driving force behind a wave of expectation that Norris was going to turn into something not just special, but potentially franchise-altering.

The brutal showing this past Sunday that saw Norris’ fastball velocity not break 90 miles per hour is just another gut-punching reminder of how far he still has to go to reach his ceiling, and how far he now has to go to get healthy again. Removed after only 2 13 innings due to the injury, 2018 has only created more questions for Norris in a season that needed to provide answers.

Without sufficient answers to the looming questions surrounding Norris’ performance and his status as a future mainstay in the Tigers rotation — coupled with the impressive amount of pitching prospects currently in the system that will soon force their way into an opportunity to fill that void — means they may pull the plug on Norris, deal him away, or turn him into a full-time reliever.

That’s the sad thing about expectations. It’s that they are almost never the same as what happens in reality.

Two years from now, we could be laughing about this whole ordeal as Norris, Michael Fulmer, Alex Faedo, Beau Burrows, and Franklin Perez [Ed.: He misspelled “Casey Mize”] engage in one-upmanship on a nightly basis while they pitch the Tigers to a deep postseason run. Or we could find that two years from now the name ‘Daniel Norris’ disappears from baseball’s radar entirely. More than likely, though, it will be somewhere in the middle. The toughest part is we can’t realistic predict how it will turn out for him, because each possibility seems just as likely as the next only adding to the dismay.

Before we worry too much, there are some good forces at work here in Norris’ favor. He is easily one of the hardest workers in the game, devoting countless hours to every aspect of his career path as a starting pitcher. As rough as it is on us to see him struggle, it’s not even in the same universe as what Norris is feeling right now and the pressures he is putting on himself. That’s one question we already know the answer to, Norris will not take it easy on himself or make excuses. He will show up and work as hard as he can to be the very best pitcher he can every single day. That alone may be enough to escape this dark cloud over him.

Between Chris Bosio and Ron Gardenhire, Norris is in good coaching hands. Bosio has shown early on a propensity for getting his pitchers to produce results, especially results we were not accustom to seeing. Gardenhire, although old school, has shown a good hook so far with his pitchers.

These things all flow in Norris’ favor, lending a realistic amount of hope that once his health is on track and he puts together a couple of good outings, it could build enough confidence for him to put these struggles in the rear-view mirror for good. We also have to accept the possibility that we may never see more than a league average season from him in the rotation, but could see something above average in the bullpen, similar to what Shane Greene has done.

There’s no reason to abandon hope for Norris yet. Things have a way of working themselves out, and with the Tigers comfortably not contending this year, this is the best time to give him the chance to get healthy so he can come back and work on any issues while being 100 percent healthy.