I have mixed emotions about Daniel Norris’ return to action on Saturday afternoon. On one hand, it’s exciting. For all of his injury issues and command problems, Norris is still a 25-year-old blessed with a golden left arm. He looked like a potential top-of-the-rotation arm in 2016, when he and fellow young starters Michael Fulmer and Matthew Boyd nearly dragged the Tigers to the playoffs. He is still under club control for three more seasons, and could still reach that lofty potential.
But he hasn’t given us much to look forward to lately. Norris struggled through 101 2⁄3 injury-filled innings in 2017, posting a 5.31 ERA. He regressed in nearly every area from that promising 2016 season. Still, we entered 2018 with lofty expectations for the young lefthander. They didn’t last long, though; Norris lost out on a starting job to Mike Fiers, and had surgery to correct a groin issue less than a month later.
If there is something to look forward to today, it’s that Norris is simply here. Getting back on the mound just four months after surgery is a positive sign for Norris, who has struggled with multiple injuries since arriving in Detroit. His velocity is down and he will probably be on a pitch count, but simply seeing him pitch again should be enough for a fanbase starved for excitement in the latter half of this season.
But if he wants to blank the Yankees for six-plus innings en route to a win, I’d be OK with that too.
Detroit Tigers (54-81) at New York Yankees (85-50)
Time/Place: 4:05 p.m., Yankee Stadium
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (0-2, 5.87 ERA) vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (9-5, 3.97 ERA)
Game 136 Pitching Matchup
Yankees fans were ready to give up on Masahiro Tanaka last year. The 29-year-old righthander had his worst MLB season to date, allowing a 4.74 ERA in 178 1⁄3 innings while giving up a career-high 35 home runs. However, everything else was fine. His strikeout rate and velocity actually improved from 2016 to 2017, and his 3.44 xFIP indicated that he was the victim of some bad home run luck. While he didn’t start the AL Wild Card Game, he enjoyed a strong postseason, with a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings.
This season was supposed to be about positive regression to the mean for Tanaka, but that hasn’t quite unfolded as such. His ERA was in the high 4’s for most of the first half, and he was placed on the disabled list in early June with a hamstring injury. Since returning, he has been the Tanaka of old; he has a 3.14 ERA in 54 1⁄3 innings, and has 55 strikeouts to just 12 walks. His efficiency has waned at times — he has three starts of five innings or fewer in this span — but there have been plenty of moments of brilliance.
Key matchup: Norris vs. efficiency
Pitch count or not, efficiency has never been Norris’ strong suit. The young lefthander has struggled with his command in his career, walking almost nine percent of the batters he has faced at the MLB level. That rate has been worst at times — he’s north of 12 percent in limited major league innings this year — and his penchant for giving up hard contact hasn’t helped either. He’s also getting a raw deal from the baseball gods. The Yankees have baseball’s best offense at home this season, and see more pitches per plate appearance than all but four MLB teams. They’re also lethal against lefties, which just adds to the fun.
Norris works four inefficient innings and the Yankees feast on Detroit’s bullpen.