Norris homers in 1st MLB AB, later exits hurt
Lefty strains right oblique; Ausmus terms it 'DL situation'
CHICAGO -- The Tigers thought they might have lost some power in their lineup without a designated hitter while they played the Cubs. Starter Daniel Norris proved they might have gained some -- though perhaps at a cost.
In his first career professional at-bat, Norris connected on a two-run home run to center field in the second inning of Wednesday night's 15-8 Tigers win. Norris' homer came off Chicago's Jon Lester, traveling an estimated 419 feet, according to Statcast™. In doing so, Norris became the first Tigers pitcher to homer since Jason Johnson did so on June 8, 2005. He's the first American League pitcher to hit a regular-season home run at Wrigley Field.
Norris' night didn't end as well, however, as he exited with one out in the fifth inning with a right oblique strain. In the previous half-inning, he fanned on three vigorous swings and misses and seemed to be experiencing pain in his right side before exiting. Norris allowed four hits, three runs, walked one and struck out six before leaving with a man on first in the fifth.
After the game, Norris said multiple times the injury was not caused from swinging during the at-bat. He said he felt tightness on his first pitch to Dexter Fowler in the fifth, when he threw a curveball that irritated him before he threw six more pitches.
"I really pulled down on it, and that's when I felt the cramp," Norris said. "So then I felt it every other pitch."
Norris will undergo an MRI on Thursday. It's the first time Norris has experienced such an injury.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was unsure how long the injury would leave the 22-year-old out, but he was quick to label it, "a DL situation."
"He's going to go on the DL and we're going to have to do something," Ausmus said.
Norris, though, wasn't ready to say the injury was as severe when he spoke after the game. He agreed it was best to be safe and exit early, despite leaving before he could pick up the win.
"Heck yeah, I want to continue pitching," Norris said. "The past two starts, I'm finally coming back into myself.
"I just wanted to stay in the game. It wasn't about staying through five [innings], it was about staying through seven, eight. It was disappointing I couldn't continue that, because I felt really good on the mound tonight."
Norris, though, was able to savor part of the game when he became the first pitcher to hit a home run in his first career plate appearance since Washington's Tommy Milone did so in 2011. Tampa Bay's Esteban Yan was the last AL pitcher to homer in his first at-bat, in 2000. And the Cubs' grounds crew wasted little time looking to preserve the ball, as three members searched through the juniper bushes to track it down.
"[It felt like] Cloud Nine," Norris said. "Just how I envisioned it, really"
Added Ausmus: "A little surreal. We've been talking about how much power he has for a guy who never hits, and all of a sudden, he hits a home run to center field. There's not many pitchers who can claim they hit a home run to center field their first at-bat."
Acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade on July 30, Norris had not had an at-bat in any of his 63 Minor League games or four contests in the Majors.
"It might've been senior night in high school or maybe summer ball that year [that I last hit]," he said. "I've hit some baseballs pretty far. That one was pretty far, though."
During batting practice Tuesday in preparation for his start, Norris made a strong impression on his teammates and coaches. But one may have stuck more than others.
Of the roughly half-dozen home runs Norris hit in BP, one is said to have broken a panel in the new video scoreboard in left field. A black bar in the bottom left-hand portion of the scoreboard remained black until the start of the game after Detroit's batting practice session.
A Cubs spokesperson could not confirm Norris' home run was the cause of the scoreboard break, but he did say that baseballs have knocked wires loose in the past when they hit the scoreboard.
"For a guy who hasn't hit since high school, he has a pretty good swing," Ausmus said before Wednesday's game.