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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Daniel Norris still searching for velocity, consistency

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Norris will make his first start of the season opposite Chicago’s Ervin Santana on Saturday.

Detroit Tigers v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Heading into this season, many fans (myself included) were hoping that the Tigers would give Daniel Norris a spot in the starting rotation. The team was projected to finish in last place, and Norris, despite all of his injuries and setbacks over the years, is the team’s youngest and most promising starting pitcher. If he could find a way to put it all together and turn into the mid-rotation starter (or better) we saw in 2016, it could change the Tigers’ long-term outlook as they look to return to contention.

Norris didn’t win a rotation spot out of spring training, but frustration was muted because of Spencer Turnbull’s excellent spring performance. The big righthander has looked the part in regular season action too, producing a 3.43 ERA with an electric strikeout rate through his first four starts.

Norris, on the other hand, appears to be going backwards. The 25-year-old lefthander (he turns 26 next week) has averaged just 90.4 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball in 2019, down slightly from last year’s 90.6 mph. He has topped out at just 93.3 mph, a velocity band that his four-seamer used to sit in just a few years ago (he topped out north of 97 mph in 2016 and 2017).

His results don’t look great either. Norris has allowed a 4.32 ERA through his first three appearance, with nearly as many home runs allowed (3) as strikeouts (4) in 8 13 innings. He has looked sharp at times, but even his two better performances were marred by shaky command and a lot of traffic on the basepaths.

Regardless of how he got into the rotation, this is still a chance for Norris to turn things around. We can only hope the velocity thing is a momentary issue that will correct itself as he gets more innings under his belt. If and when those numbers get higher, the ones on the scoreboard should trend downward.

Chicago White Sox (8-11) at Detroit Tigers (9-10)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN+, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ervin Santana (0-1, 10.38 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (0-0, 4.32 ERA)

Game 21 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 24.1 36.0 7.0 1.65 1.2
Sale 18.0 16.7 6.0 6.31 -0.2

Speaking of pitchers who have lost velocity, Ervin Santana has looked positively awful through his first two starts in a White Sox uniform. He gave up seven runs in just 3 23 innings in his first start, including three home runs. Things got a little better the second time out, but he still surrendered a pair of dingers in five lackluster innings.

Whether it is related to the finger injury that sidelined him for most of 2018 or just age (he’s 36 now), Santana’s raw stuff is all but gone.

He was never overpowering at his peak, but that slider was still a put-away pitch that made life difficult for hitters when he got ahead in the count. Now that he isn’t throwing as hard, his command has escaped him — he has four walks in 8 23 innings — and opponents aren’t chasing the slider. If he manages to keep the Tigers lineup in check, it will be worth a deep dive to figure out how in the world he did it.

What’s this ESPN+ thing?

ESPN+ is an a la carte streaming service (like Netflix) that hosts a number of live and on-demand sporting events, including all the soccer you can shake your fist at. More relevant to our interests, they choose one MLB game per day for their subscribers to watch, similar to MLB.TV’s Free Game of the Day. You can sign up here if you’re interested — they offer a seven-day free trial if you want to check it out before jumping all the way in. We will identify future ESPN+ broadcasts in our game previews when they happen.

Key matchup: Josh Harrison vs. getting on base

It has been a relatively quiet story given the rest of the offense’s sluggishness, but Josh Harrison has been downright awful at the plate so far this season. Friday’s home run notwithstanding, Harrison is batting just .129/.205/.200 in 78 plate appearances, and has scored just five runs in 17 games. Naturally, with the leadoff hitter struggling so badly, it has had ripple effects down the rest of the lineup.

For all of the concerns about Miguel Cabrera’s power, the big man is still hitting for a decent average and getting on base. Nicholas Castellanos is also hitting .262, and has a handful of extra-base hits to his name. But the two have combined for just nine RBI through the team’s first 19 games, a 77 RBI pace over a full season. This comes back to Harrison (and the bottom of the lineup) not doing their jobs. A batting order shakeup may be in order if the veteran second baseman can’t work out his issues at the plate.

Prediction

Another weird, high scoring game.