Whenever Norris needed to make a pitch, however, he had one. That encapsulates Detroit's talented 23-year-old lefty's game right now as he tries to shore up a rotation spot, making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Toledo.
When Norris is on, he can dominate a lineup, as he showed last year. The key when he's off is staying a pitch away from getting out.
"He's obviously electric," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "If he can harness it just a tick, he can be really, really good."
As he was, he was plenty good enough Wednesday. He set a career high with eight strikeouts, and he did so with his first out of the fourth inning, his 17th batter of the afternoon. Five of those strikeouts were called, including a first-inning fastball to freeze Marcell Ozuna and a nasty changeup to buckle Giancarlo Stanton and strand two runners in the opening inning.
"I like getting them swinging, but most of the ones that were looking were quality pitches in the zone," Norris said. "It's executing a quality pitch."
Five of his strikeouts came with runners on base, including another changeup that sent down Christian Yelich swinging with two on and two out in the second, with the Marlins having a chance to erase their early deficit or even pull ahead.
Norris had the strikeout when he needed it. The flip side, of course, was that he needed it so often.
"For Norris with the pitch count up and the baserunners, the traffic, strikeouts became very important," manager Brad Ausmus said.
Norris set his career high in strikeouts on a day when he allowed eight hits over five innings and 100 pitches. He had 76 pitches through three innings, yet had only one walk, a four-pitch pass to Derek Dietrich. He didn't record a groundout until the fourth inning, and finished with two. The only Tigers defender with a putout through three innings was right fielder Steven Moya.
"Early on, I was just trying to throw get-me-over fastballs, which were missing," Norris said. "Later on, I was really letting the ball go, challenging the guys.
"For me, a big part is just challenging guys first pitch and being able to get ahead with that rather than trying to throw 91-92 sinkers down in the zone and end up missing with them or cutting on it. Rather just go and attack guys with 94-95 and say, 'Here it is. Hit it.' It's easier for me to command the ball that way. It's more of a mental approach than anything."
An early lead allowed him to attack, a credit to the Tigers' offense. The strikeouts, in turn, made life easier on the Tigers' defense.
Said Kinsler: "He had big strikeouts at big moments in innings. It takes a lot of pressure off a defense. Again, I think there's a lot more in there than what he showed today."