Daniel Norris retired 14 of the first 15 hitters he faced en route to his best start of the season and a 5-3 win for the Detroit Tigers over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. Norris’ 6 1⁄3 inning effort was his longest of the year — and longest in nearly two full years — earning him his second win of 2019.
The Tigers staked Norris to an early lead before he even took the mound on Sunday. Niko Goodrum led off the game with a walk, and scored when Nicholas Castellanos belted a towering two-run home run to right field off Twins starter Martin Perez. Miguel Cabrera and Ronny Rodriguez also made solid contact off Perez — a theme for the Tigers’ offense on Sunday — but came away empty.
The Tigers added to their lead in the top of the second. After Perez recorded a pair of outs, Brandon Dixon hit a solo home run, his third of 2019, to deep left field, putting the Tigers up 3-0.
Detroit’s offense went quiet for the next few innings, but it didn’t matter. Norris was in control from the start, dotting both sides of the plate with his fastball, which sat around 90-91 miles per hour. He kept the Twins off balance for most of his afternoon, and retired 12 of the 13 hitters he faced in his first four innings. The only blemish was a two-out single from Byron Buxton in the third, which ended any early thoughts of a potential perfect game.
Norris didn’t really run into any trouble until the fifth. He retired C.J. Cron and Max Kepler, but then allowed a pair of hits to Ehire Adrianza and Jake Cave — the latter a liner that deflected off the top of Miguel Cabrera’s glove. With two on and two out, Norris then walked Byron Buxton to load the bases. Fortunately, Norris was able to induce a weak pop-up from Twins leadoff hitter Willians Astudillo (yes, you read that right) to end the threat.
After Norris worked a quiet sixth, the Tigers offense gave him a bit more breathing room. Dixon led off the seventh inning with a ground rule double, and moved to third base on a JaCoby Jones single. Goodrum scored Dixon with a sacrifice fly, and Jones then came around to score on a two-out RBI single from Cabrera.
Things got interesting from there. Adrianza hit a one-out homer off Norris in the bottom of the seventh to put the Twins on the board. Jake Cave followed with a double, sending Norris to the showers. Victor Alcantara gave up a pair of hits upon entering the game, leading to a second Twins run. Ron Gardenhire then turned to lefthander Daniel Stumpf with two outs and two on. Stumpf walked pinch hitter Mitch Garver to load the bases, then also issued a free pass to Marwin Gonzalez, bringing in a third Twins run. Buck Farmer then came on, and struck out C.J. Cron with the bases loaded to maintain the Tigers’ 5-3 lead.
Things got hairy again in the bottom of the eighth, when Adrianza and Byron Buxton combined to put runners on second and third against Joe Jimenez. The Tigers’ mercurial setup man was able to wiggle out of trouble, however, inducing another Astudillo pop-out to escape the jam. Shane Greene skipped the drama in the ninth, working around a two-out single to record his 15th save of the year.
The good: Daniel Norris was sharp, working both sides of the plate while mostly avoiding the middle of the strike zone. His 6 1⁄3 inning outing was his longest since May 24, 2017.
Also good: Nicholas Castellanos had three hits, including a double and a home run. His homer was his third of the year, and first since April 26. Brandon Dixon added a double and a home run, and now has a .943 OPS on the year.
The bad: Victor Alcantara and Daniel Stumpf did their best to throw this one away. They faced a combined five hitters and recorded just one out.
The meh: Gordon Beckham and Ronny Rodriguez both went 0-for-4, but are still exceeding expectations in a big way this year. They were also solid up the middle defensively in this game, including this bare-handed flip from Beckham.
Up next: The Tigers will head home for a three-game series with the Houston Astros starting on Monday.