Tigers lefty Norris pleased to face Yanks' best

Rotation hopeful makes spring debut vs. Judge, Stanton, Sanchez

February 28th, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. -- knows the route to George M. Steinbrenner Field by heart now. He started here twice in Spring Training last year, and with three Tigers trips this spring, he figured he'd end up here again.

When he surveyed the Yankees' lineup, he realized one notable difference. With making his first appearance of the spring, new slugger batting behind him, then after that, Norris realized his first outing this spring would not be a leisurely trip through the batting order, even for an early-spring game.

"This is probably their Opening Day lineup, and I was happy," Norris said after two innings Wednesday. "You don't want to be eased into it, at least for me. It was my first time, might as well go for it."

This is essentially how he's approaching his quest for a rotation spot as well. While the Tigers signed veteran left-hander with a promise to let him compete for a rotation spot, Norris realizes he can only focus on what he does.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

It has always been about Norris' game. With a mid-90s fastball when he's on and a buckling breaking ball, he has always had the stuff to stick in the big leagues. His biggest foes as a Tiger have been inconsistency and health. New pitching coach Chris Bosio has tweaked Norris' delivery to help the former, and a follow-up exam last week on his injured groin from last summer addressed the latter.

If Norris stays healthy and pitches near his capability, he should be in the Tigers' rotation to start the year. For most of his two innings Wednesday, he reinforced that.

Norris was a pitch away from surviving the top of the Yankees' order unscathed, striking out Judge on a changeup and putting Stanton in an 0-2 count. But after spiking a curveball well in front of home plate, Norris saw Stanton's popup on his next pitch fall in shallow right for a bloop single to extend the inning.

Up came Sanchez, making his first appearance against the Tigers since last summer's fracas at Comerica Park. He turned on Norris' first-pitch fastball and sent it over the left-field scoreboard for a two-run homer.

"It was really pitch selection there," Norris said. "I got it kind of down and in where we were going, but he was obviously sitting on it."

Norris was left to survey the damage, but when asked if he watched the ball's path as it headed over the "O" in George M. Steinbrenner Field atop the scoreboard, Norris cracked a smile.

"Nah, I didn't look at it," he said. "It was really loud, so I figured it was going pretty far."

Norris gathered himself between innings, came back out and retired the Yankees in order on 11 pitches in the second. The breaking ball he spiked three times in the opening inning, he refined in the second for strikes and bad swings.

"That's a pretty good lineup over there and his first time out there this year," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. "Ball's coming out of his hand good and his health was all good. Now we'll see how he rebounds here in the next couple days and if he'll be able to do it again. But it was good today. I liked it."

Added Norris: "You obviously every year have the first-outing jitters or whatever it is. Second inning, I definitely felt more relaxed and I think I was executing pitches better just because I felt that. …

"The velocity will come. I felt like I wasn't letting it go as hard as I could like I used to. I think that'll come in time and then the fastball will play up and everything like that. But I just felt more in control as far as spinning breaking balls and stuff like that."