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Bullpen can't follow up solid Norris in loss to Seattle

Lefty works 3 1/3 innings in first MLB start before 'pen allows three HRs

TORONTO -- Daniel Norris hasn't been at the top of his game since being called up earlier this month, but it's the overall experience rather than the final results that should pay dividends down the road.

Toronto's top prospect made his Major League starting debut on Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre, and while the mid-90s fastball wasn't there, he was able to survive. That's how his first month in the big leagues has gone, but there's little doubt that experiences like a 7-5 loss to Seattle will provide a greater comfort level next season.

Norris heavily relied on his offspeed arsenal vs. Seattle and it was good enough to get through 3 1/3 innings. The same couldn't necessarily be said about the Blue Jays' bullpen, which proceeded to surrender three homers in the losing effort.

"It's obvious that my stuff isn't there," Norris admitted after the game. "It's tough to try to pitch without your stuff, but sometimes that's the competitor that has to come out and I think that's what I tried to do today -- go out and compete without your big guns."

Norris' stuff might not be there, but it's safe to say he'll be forgiven following a year in which he established himself as the club's top prospect. He began the season at Class A Advanced Dunedin, flew through the system and posted a combined 2.53 ERA across three levels.

The performance was enough to earn a promotion to the big leagues at the beginning of September. He spent the first three weeks of his Major League career working out of the bullpen and then received the spot start on Thursday after right-hander Marcus Stroman was handed a five-game suspension for throwing in the head area of Baltimore's Caleb Joseph.

Norris' fastball, since his debut, has been in the low-90s, compared to the mid-90s velocity that most of the scouts had come to love over the past couple of years. A change in his routine this September could be one cause and fatigue could be another, but nobody around the club seems concerned. This is all about building for the future.

"I think at the end of the day it's the same game," said Norris, who has allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings. "It's the game of baseball, you go out there and you get people out, no matter if there's 50,000 people or not. It has been an unbelievable experience. Although I've been frustrated with the way I've thrown, it's something I'll never forget just because of where I am."

Toronto manager John Gibbons said before the game that Norris would be limited to approximately 50-60 pitches because he hadn't started since August, but the lefty made the most of his opportunity. Norris retired the first eight batters he faced and eventually departed with a pair of runners on and one out in the fourth.

The former second-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft battled through the early stages of his outing before a bunt single and a walk in the fourth. He finished with one strikeout, throwing 29 of his 59 pitches for strikes in his final outing of the year.

Toronto's bullpen experienced a lot of difficulty after Norris left the game. Mariners outfielder Logan Morrison hit a three-run homer off Todd Redmond in the fourth and later added a solo shot off Aaron Loup in the sixth. Right-hander Dustin McGowan also had some trouble out of the 'pen as he surrendered a solo homer to catcher Mike Zunino.

"The first one I was looking for something up and over the plate, and was able to put the barrel on it and it got out," Morrison said. "The second one, I don't have any idea how I hit that guy. [Loup's] filthy. I blacked out. I don't know what happened. I got the barrel to a two-seamer in and was able to get it up enough to get out. So that was cool."

The Blue Jays had a couple of rallies but weren't able to overcome the bullpen's rough afternoon. Anthony Gose and Adam Lind had a pair of RBI singles, while rookie Dalton Pompey walked twice and scored a run out of the leadoff spot. Kevin Pillar added a solo home run -- his second of the year -- in the bottom of the ninth, but Mariners closer Fernando Rodney hung on for the save.

Despite not coming away with the finale win, the Blue Jays lived up to their role as spoiler in the final week of the season. Seattle entered the four-game series in the thick of the postseason race but was dealt a serious blow after the Blue Jays took the first three games by a combined score of 25-6.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, Daniel Norris