DETROIT -- Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris spent three weeks waiting for this day, his first workout of Summer Camp. In the four weeks he spent in COVID-19 protocol, he did workouts using actor Chris Hemsworth’s Centr app, simulated bullpen sessions and games by throwing balls against a chain-link fence at a local park and waited for negative test results.
“Chain-link fence was my best friend until today,” he said.
When word came Monday, he was so excited to return to Comerica Park that he couldn’t sleep.
“I was up until 4:30 last night, felt like Christmas morning,” Norris said. “I've been praying a lot, hoping and praying. It was tough. I feel fortunate about the symptoms I had. Yeah, obviously it wasn't fun, but it wasn't that bad for me. But I think just the mental aspect of not being able to go to the field, that was the hardest part, just not being able to be there. Instead, I was sitting on my porch right here watching the livestream.”
The clearance might be too late for Norris to join the Tigers' pitching staff for the start of the season Friday in Cincinnati, but he shouldn’t be far behind, giving Detroit’s rotation a much-needed boost with Jordan Zimmermann out and Michael Fulmer awaiting his first Major League start in 22 months.
Norris said he threw a 65-pitch bullpen session Tuesday at Comerica Park.
“I have a sim game on Thursday, and then I should be ready to rock,” he said.
The Tigers have until Thursday at noon ET to set their Opening Day roster. They’ve already talked about mixing and matching pitchers for one or more rotation spots. If Norris shows he’s ready to pitch but not quite stretched out, the Tigers could use him in a piggyback starting role, similar to the three-inning starts he made down the stretch last year. He could be paired with Fulmer or Tyler Alexander.
After the last four weeks, Norris is simply glad to be on a mound again. He said he tested positive on June 23 in Lakeland, Fla. He had been sick for a few days earlier in the month and woke up with chills and body aches, but he wasn’t sure if he had caught the virus.
He stayed in Florida after Spring Training was suspended and had been working out in Tampa, driving across the state to Cocoa Beach every so often to surf.
“I certainly was coherent to what was going on,” Norris said, “I was taking precautions. Everything was open and semi-normal, but I wasn’t partaking in all that. I just kind of figured I was doing enough to not get it, and once I got it, it definitely shocks you a little bit.
“I never was scared or anything, but I was like, ‘When can I come back?’ I was counting down the days. And slowly the days turned into over a month.”
Though Norris said his symptoms went away around the time of the positive test, he couldn’t get the negative tests he needed to be cleared. He would get a negative test, then a positive one, or an inconclusive result.
Along the way, he watched the club’s intrasquad games, talked with the medical staff, his teammates and family, and waited.
“I sent out a little message to the guys a few weeks ago, more or less just saying, ‘I miss you guys,’” Norris said. “If I did have any advice, it was, ‘Don’t take it lightly. Wear your mask. Just do everything.’ If you want to get through Summer Camp and this 60-game season, you have to be willing to sacrifice 2 1/2 months. You have to kind of lock it in for 2 1/2 months if you want to get through the season and have a championship and all that. Putting yourself at risk -- not that it isn’t ok -- but it’s easier to not do that and keep that whole team of negatives rolling. Once you get a positive [test], it’s pretty scary.”
With Norris back, the Tigers are down to two players missing from workouts, both prospects: left-hander Tarik Skubal and outfielder Daz Cameron. Like Norris, both are on the 10-day injured list; no reason has been given for either's absence.
Major League Baseball has instituted a COVID-19 list this season, although clubs will not announce which players are placed on it due to privacy laws regarding individuals’ health. Players may address their status if they wish, though they are not required to do so. Merely being placed on an injured list without further explanation is not confirmation that a player has tested positive for COVID-19. For example, potential exposure to a person who has the virus can be sufficient cause.
Norris joins several Tigers who have returned to action in the last few days, including right-hander Alex Faedo and infielders Isaac Paredes and Sergio Alcantara. Paredes said Sunday he tested positive for COVID-19 and had been in protocol.
• The Tigers granted left-hander Hector Santiago his unconditional release Tuesday. The veteran hurler had the right to request his release as part of his Minor League contract, which included a non-roster invite to camp. Santiago was in competition for a bullpen spot until the Tigers re-assigned him to their alternate training site on Monday.
• Reliever Zack Hess, who struck out two batters in an impressive inning of relief in Monday’s intrasquad game, was removed from the 60-man player pool on Tuesday. Normally, players can only be removed from the pool if they’re released, traded or designated for assignment and placed on waivers. If a player is added to replace a player on the COVID-19 injured list, however, that player can be removed from the pool without a transaction.
• While Dario Agrazal started Tuesday’s exhibition in Cincinnati, Spencer Turnbull pitched in a camp game back at Comerica Park. That outing keeps him on turn for an expected assignment Sunday against the Reds to close out their three-game series in Cincinnati.