ATLANTA -- Four years after Daniel Norris homered at Wrigley Field, he finally picked up his second Major League hit, a chopper that hit home plate and bounced high into the air as Norris bolted down the line to first base. By the time Braves rookie starter Mike Soroka barehanded it on its way down, Norris was rumbling into first base.
“It didn’t feel real good off the bat,” Norris said, “but it was fun to run.”
When Norris scored two batters later on Christin Stewart’s two-run single, the Tigers became the first team to pin multiple earned runs on Soroka this year, and Detroit had a lead in its quest for its first four-game winning streak since the first full week of the season. That the chopper was the pinnacle of Norris’ afternoon tells plenty about how the rest of Saturday’s 10-5 Tigers loss unfolded.
“I feel a lot better than the [pitching] line, but I beat myself,” Norris said.
He had help; the Tigers made another error behind him, and a Nick Markakis loft off the right-field wall caught Nicholas Castellanos in a bad position to play a carom, setting up a triple. Christin Stewart took off from first base without a green light, then was tagged out at second base without sliding when he thought Castellanos had fouled a pitch off.
“We’ve been playing pretty solid lately, and we did some crazy things,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Still, Norris was looking for more out of himself with family and friends in attendance from Johnson City, Tenn., especially after three solid innings to begin the day.
Norris has become a reliable starter in a Tigers rotation that desperately needs them, but Saturday was a rare flash of the learning curve the talented young lefty continues to climb in his first extended stretch as a starter in a while. He has succeeded in part by throwing the kitchen sink at hitters, including an improved changeup that struck out Austin Riley to strand a runner on third base in the second inning, but his untimely offspeed pitch towards first base on a Soroka sacrifice bunt produced a costly error to set up the two-run rally that put the Braves ahead for good.
Norris’ errant throw was one of three deliveries that cost him dearly on a day when the Tigers provided him with some rare offensive support. The other untimely tosses resulted in two-run homers -- one a first-pitch slider that Freddie Freeman belted off the facing of the Chop House in right field, and the other a 91 mph fastball that Riley pulled, which sent Norris out of the game.
Norris’ frustration on the Freeman pitch was evident as he spun around to watch the ball head out.
“Strike slider, you can’t do that to him,” Norris said.
Riley’s eighth homer tied him with Carlos Delgado and Trevor Story for the second most in his first 16 Major League games. Only Rhys Hoskins, who homered against the Tigers a month ago, had more, with nine.
“Just a two-seam away, and the guy’s been on fire, so he put a good swing,” said Norris, who acknowledged tiring a bit his third trip through the Braves order.
Norris’ six runs allowed tied a season high, though one was unearned thanks to his error. He allowed two home runs in a game for just the second time this season, and he yielded six balls in play with exit velocities of 101.8 mph or faster.
“That’s not his best performance, but he hung in there pretty good,” Gardenhire said.
While Norris has been effective for much of the past month in the rotation, he has allowed seven home runs over his last five starts, a potential concern as the weather continues to warm. Most have come off the fastball, a big reason why he continues to mix up his arsenal. But while Norris has surrendered just four base hits off his slider, according to Statcast, three of them are home runs. When opponents connect, it goes.
He’ll get a chance to build on Saturday’s lessons in five days against the Rays at Comerica Park.
“That’s all right. Lick the wounds and get ready for the next one,” Norris said. “I still feel really good about the way I’m throwing the ball. I still feel pretty good about what we’re working on and the progress I’ve been making.”