Norris, Manning impress in spring debuts

March 3rd, 2021

LAKELAND, Fla. -- said after his first outing of the spring Wednesday that he wants to work on his curveball in camp. Asked if he’s working on anything in particular with it, he was matter of fact.

“I mean, honestly, I realized I threw one last year,” the Tigers' left-hander said.

No, he didn’t mean that he forgot he had a curveball. He means he threw exactly one curveball out of his 490 total pitches counted by Statcast last season.

Matt Manning, the Tigers' No. 3 prospect and Norris' camp teammate, has had a curveball as an important part of his arsenal for much of his rise up the farm system. He never got to throw it in the Majors last year because his season was limited to the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio, but he still wanted to improve upon it in his bid for a rotation spot in Detroit.

“I think the curveball is a good pitch that just gets them off my fastball,” Manning said earlier this week. “It’s going to pop a little bit. If I throw it in the dirt, I can probably get some swings.”

Manning did that Wednesday in his first outing of the spring, and the results were nasty. He didn’t light up radar guns like he did last spring, but he pitched far more effectively in two scoreless innings, the same total Norris posted in his start.

Roman Quinn, the first batter Manning faced, swung and missed at two curveballs on his way to a strikeout. Ronald Torreyes fouled one off, took a fastball for a strike, then hit the curveball into the ground for an inning-ending double play.

The top of the Phillies' order generally laid off Manning’s curve in his second inning of work, but they hit two groundouts and a flyout off fastballs instead, finishing out the righty’s strong opening outing.

“His stuff is really, really exciting,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously it’s his first time out, but I was interested to see whether or not he was anxious, or if he would be jumping off the rubber and try to throw a billion miles an hour. He was pretty calm and collected, made some pretty good pitches, was all over the strike zone. So that was a positive first step.”

Norris’ two hitless innings were similarly easy, requiring just 22 pitches. He needed just 10 to retire Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius in order, then struck out Matt Joyce and Roman Quinn on changeups following shortstop ’s second-inning throwing error.

Norris, too, has been known to get amped up and overthrow, but he had a veteran’s calmness against the Phillies, spotting 92-93 mph fastballs with a smooth delivery.

“I feel like the first [outing] you just kind of want to get it over with,” Norris said, “so I was just kind of pitching today. I think later on as we go, I’m going to work on other things, refining the slider and the curveball.”

Those pitches will likely get dusted off next time out.

Castro works on throws
Hours before Wednesday’s 4-2 loss, Hinch said fluidity and accuracy are key for Castro in his throwing work, but he didn’t want him to become so focused on it that he becomes too mechanical.

"He's going to make a bad throw. He's going to throw a ball away. Nobody's perfect,” Hinch said. “But to me, the process leading up to that has got to be really fluid and very, very consistent. And some of that is timing."

Castro then made his second throwing error in four days, throwing wide and short on an Andrew Knapp grounder and taking first baseman Jeimer Candelario off the bag. He had a couple other looping throws that Candelario rescued.

The Tigers are trying to take timing mechanisms out of Castro’s motion, such as an extra step or a glove tap.

“I’m looking for him to have a nice, fluid, feel-through-the-ball motion, throw the ball to first base accurate,” Hinch said. “Doesn’t have to be perfect, but it gives us a chance to make a play on the other end.

Quick hits
, who ended last season as Detroit’s backup catcher, entered Wednesday’s game in left field, making a basket catch on a shallow fly ball. “His ability to move around the field would help him become more and more of a factor at the Major League level,” Hinch said. He’s athletic enough.”

• One day after Spencer Torkelson made his Grapefruit League debut at third base, the Tigers’ top prospect entered Wednesday’s game at first. “He’s going to play a little bit of both in camp,” Hinch said. “In the season, I think he’s going to play primarily third base, but I think it’s always important for him to get a game or two a week at first base and continue to develop that part of his game as well.”