Liriano a likely lock for rotation; Norris still vying

Gardenhire 'sure' Tigers newcomer will start, so long as lefty remains healthy

March 11th, 2018

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers signed earlier this Spring Training, in part because of his ability to both start and relieve if the need arises. Two starts into his Grapefruit League, he has apparently anchored a spot in the former category.

After Liriano threw three scoreless innings with four strikeouts in the Tigers' 6-3 win over the Braves Sunday at Joker Marchant Stadium, manager Ron Gardenhire indicated that Liriano has a rotation spot as long as he's healthy.

"I don't know if he's fighting with anybody [for a spot]," Gardenhire said. "We brought him in for a reason, hopefully to be in our rotation. I think we need him and that veteran experience in our rotation. If he's healthy and well, I'm sure that's where he'll be."

Once Liriano finished his work Sunday, followed with his second relief appearance of the week. This time, Norris used 40 pitches through two scoreless innings, then threw 15-20 more in the bullpen to stretch out his pitch count.

"I wanted to keep throwing," Norris said. "I did some good things that I hadn't done in a while. I was pleased with it."

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Liriano was perceived to be an insurance signing in case the Tigers had injuries or other struggles in their rotation. Liriano now has a spot, but Gardenhire said Norris is still competing.

"Norris is definitely fighting for a spot," Gardenhire said. "I think he's got good stuff. Now it's just a matter of trying to get him stretched out one more [time] and see where they all fit. There's battles, and that's good. But I think we brought Liriano here for a reason."

Gardenhire does not want to get into which pitchers are competing against each other for rotation spots. Asked if there are any locks, Gardenhire indicated no, but noted a couple pitchers who should be in there.

"[Pitching coach Chris] Bosio and I have not even sat down and said anything about locks," he said. "We're just letting them pitch right now. We hope Liriano's going to be one if he's healthy. Obviously [Michael] Fulmer, we believe he's going to be one of our guys. And after that, it's a cat fight."

In theory, that leaves Norris, Mike Fiers, and Matthew Boyd competing. The degree of competition could be relative, and also could depend on health.

Zimmermann has three years left on the five-year contract he signed with the Tigers as a free agent. He had a nerve block injection in his back before camp began, while his neck remains an issue. Fiers signed a one-year, $6 million deal to join the Tigers over the offseason. Boyd is out of Minor League options.

That leaves Norris, who has an option remaining, in a potentially precarious spot. His pitch count has been stretched out slowly after he visited a specialist for a follow-up exam on his groin injury from last summer.

"We're going to let them pitch and stretch them out," Gardenhire said. "Whichever way we go, we're going to have some starters down that if we have injuries or whatever, we'll have some starters in Triple-A too. But we can't start them all here. That's why it's competition."

So far, at least, Norris feels good. He struck out three batters Sunday, on fastballs, and scattered three hits. His velocity has progressed slowly, but he said he's not throwing hard just yet.

"That's probably the best I've felt this spring as far as just delivery, tempo, comfort," he said. "I'm not forcing any balls, really. It was just free and easy."