It was all going so well. Daniel Norris was striking out New York Yankees left and right, and had finally reached the point in the game where everyone learned to stopped worrying and love his potential again. He struck out seven hitters in his first four innings. It was happening.
Then it all fell apart. Walk, deep fly out, home run. Then, an injury. Head athletic trainer Doug Teter came out, argued with Norris for a moment, and the young lefty was once again walking off the mound early. We assumed the worst, because that’s basically what Daniel Norris’ career has been so far.
Luckily, it was a false alarm. Norris just had some cramping in his calf, and the Tigers (understandably) took him out before he could rip or tear or break or strain something else. I assume he has been wrapped in bubblewrap with a straw for water and coffee since then.
Friday offers yet another chance at redemption for the 25-year-old lefthander. He once again flashed his immense potential last weekend, the kind of potential that can change a franchise’s outlook on life. He looked healthy, confident, and deceptive against the Yankees — until Gleyber Torres had his say, at least — and offered the kind of optimism we haven’t seen for a while ‘round these parts. He offered hope.
Sign me up for a few more hours of that this evening.
St. Louis Cardinals (78-62) at Detroit Tigers (57-83)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Viva El Birdos
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Austin Gomber (5-0, 2.77 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (0-3, 5.49 ERA)
Game 141 Pitching Matchup
“Austin Gomber” is totally a made-up name and not a real person, but the Cardinals seem committed to this farce so we’re going to roll with it. The 24-year-old lefthander has split time between Triple-A Memphis and the big leagues this year, logging 123 2⁄3 innings in all. He has a better ERA in his 24 MLB appearances, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is much stronger in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He recently moved to the Cardinals’ rotation full-time, and has put up some excellent numbers; through six August starts, he managed a 2.45 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 33 innings.
More importantly, the Cardinals were 6-0 in those games. The Cards offense backed Gomber with 48 runs across those six starts — no doubt because they know they have a made-up person on the mound — and won four of them by four runs or more. Still, Gomber has held his own; he has produced a league average strikeout rate in his first taste of major league action, and has only allowed one home run since being recalled from the minors again in late July.
While he produced a nice strikeout rate in Triple-A this year, this might be the best we see from Gomber (especially until MLB figures out he’s not real). He projects as a back-end starter, and while he averages 93-94 miles per hour with the fastball, it’s not an overpowering pitch. His best secondary offering is a curveball that FanGraphs grades as a potential above-average pitch, and also mixes in a cutter and changeup. The curveball is his out pitch — he throws it nearly 40 percent of the time when ahead in the count — but it doesn’t generate many whiffs.
Key matchup: The Tigers offense vs. Gomber’s weird splits
Somehow, the left-handed Gomber has produced some excellent results against right-handed hitters this year. They are batting .215/.325/.338 against him this year, a .663 OPS nearly 100 points lower than what left-handed batters have produced (.772) in a handful of plate appearances. Normally, I would chalk this up to the small sample, but he turned the same trick in 143 2⁄3 innings of Double-A ball last year.
However, his peripherals don’t match up. He has an abysmal 12.3 percent walk rate against righties this year, nearly double what he has managed against left-handed hitters. His strikeout rate is also higher against lefties as well. The 99-point difference in batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is certainly playing a role, but Gomber has also managed higher fly ball and pop-up rates against right-handed hitters this season.
Norris doesn’t cramp up this time and notches his first win of the year.