DETROIT -- For Daniel Norris, ending the season healthy and pitching is a win in itself after a summer of frustration spent rehabbing from surgery. The way his run support has gone since his return this month, that could well end up being the only win he takes from this
DETROIT -- For Daniel Norris, ending the season healthy and pitching is a win in itself after a summer of frustration spent rehabbing from surgery. The way his run support has gone since his return this month, that could well end up being the only win he takes from this year.
The Tigers ended their home schedule with a type of game they've had plenty of times at Comerica Park, a close, low-scoring duel with a late threat. They didn't get the late hit this time, falling, 3-2, to the Royals on Sunday afternoon before Comerica Park began closing up for the winter.
"We wanted to win this game," Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said, "and it's disappointing we didn't."
As the Tigers do every year, players took the jerseys off their backs to give to fans after the game. The next time Detroit takes the field here on April 4 -- also against the Royals -- there will be some different names for fans to learn as the rebuilding effort chugs along, but the general theme will be a similar. The roster will be young, the style of play will be aggressive and the progress will be measured in development as much or more than wins. Pulling out more games like Sunday's will be part of that measure.
"It was exciting, all the way to the last pitch," Gardenhire said. "That's kind of the way you want it, but you want it to turn out our way. We just couldn't get one more hit, get another run."
Norris hopes to be in the Tigers' rotation when they return next year. He also hopes for a healthy offseason that allows him to put in the work to help him pitch deeper into games, not just with physical endurance but more consistent mechanics with which to pound the strike zone.
"It's going to happen," Norris said. "The time's going to come when you start feeling good body-wise, and rhythm and tempo and everything will sync. Right now, it's just been a battle every outing. Even the good ones have been a grind, just trying to make stuff happen."
In theory, early exits might have cost the enigmatic lefty a chance to stick around for late Detroit rallies. Sunday marked the third time in five September starts Norris held an opponent to two runs or fewer without getting a victory. However, the Tigers didn't win any of those starts anyway; Sunday's loss dropped Detroit to 1-6 in his starts, including a pair of 3-2 defeats and a 2-1 loss.
Norris expended 98 pitches Sunday as he worked through seven 3-2 counts, but he scattered six hits and two walks to keep the Tigers in a pitching duel opposite Royals rookie Brad Keller. Raul Mondesi's first-inning solo home run, his second homer of the series, comprised the lone scoring damage as Norris turned to a sharp slider to strand runners in scoring position in three of his five innings.
"I feel like that's been the story of the year, just the slider, because nothing else feels very sharp right now," Norris said. "Just kind of relied on spinning that, trying to make pitches when I can."
Like Norris' other six starts, he departed without a win. He'll get one more start this year, likely Saturday at Milwaukee, to try for his first win since last September. No Tigers pitcher has gone winless in a season with at least eight starts since Scott Aldred in 1996, according to Baseball-Reference.
Drew VerHagen (3-3) had tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings since late August and hadn't allowed multiple runs in an inning since Aug. 7, but he paid for three consecutive softly hit, two-out singles with exit velocities of 82 mph or less according to Statcast™. Consecutive two-out singles from Alcides Escobar and Rosell Herrera put runners at the corners for Cam Gallagher, whose blooper to left eluded Michael Mahtook's attempt and plated both runners.
"Vergy just got bled to death," Gardenhire said.
Keller (9-6) held Detroit to a Nicholas Castellanos sacrifice fly in the fourth inning on his way to seven innings of three-hit ball with three walks and two strikeouts.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Tigers' ninth-inning rally loaded the bases with one out off Royals closer Wily Peralta, starting with a Niko Goodrum bunt single.
Grayson Greiner's walk put the potential winning run on base and moved Goodrum into position to score on a Victor Reyes sacrifice fly, but Peralta struck out Jim Adduci to end the game for the second time in three days, this time earning his 13th save.
Harold Castro, added to Detroit's roster on Friday for infield depth, became the 10th Tiger to make his Major League debut this season when he pinch-ran for Greiner in the ninth.
HE SAID IT
"Our fans have been great coming out and supporting this team through it all, which has been a pleasure to watch. I saw that from the other side all the time. Great tradition here, great organization, and I'm happy to be a part of it." -- Gardenhire
The Tigers begin their season-ending road trip on Tuesday night at Target Field, where they'll open a three-game series against the Twins with an 8:10 p.m. ET game. Spencer Turnbull (0-1, 10.80 ERA) will face Minnesota for the second time in as many Major League starts, hoping for his first big league win. The Twins are expected to turn to their bullpen for an opener, as they did in two of three games last week at Comerica Park.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.