DETROIT -- Daniel Norris continues to search for his fastball, but he's cobbling together outs with the pitches he has now. Unless that drastically changes, he'll continue his search for his best repertoire in the big leagues.Though manager Ron Gardenhire noted earlier this week that Norris needs regular innings, he
DETROIT -- Daniel Norris continues to search for his fastball, but he's cobbling together outs with the pitches he has now. Unless that drastically changes, he'll continue his search for his best repertoire in the big leagues.
Though manager Ron Gardenhire noted earlier this week that Norris needs regular innings, he confirmed Saturday morning that Norris will go back to the Tigers' bullpen rather than the Triple-A Toledo rotation. The decision came out of a discussion with pitching coach Chris Bosio and Detroit's front office.
"We want to use him," Gardenhire said. "We'll get through this and try to figure his next start. But we're going to use him out of the bullpen, multiple innings, rather than bounce a kid up and down. He's part of our baseball team. We are going to leave it like that for now."
Norris tossed 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a spot start in the second game of Friday's split doubleheader against the Royals, yielding only a Whit Merrifield home run off an ill-fated 89-mph fastball. It marked his first game appearance in nine days, and just his third appearance in this weather-interrupted season.
While Norris' outing did little to answer questions about where his fastball velocity has gone, it showed how he can make it work. His average speed of 88.6 mph on Friday was his lowest of the season, according to Statcast™, yet he drew four swing-and-misses and six called strikes out of 48 fastballs. By mixing in 30 sliders, which drew six other swinging strikes, he set up his heater to sneak up on hitters, catcher John Hicks suggested.
The fastball-slider combination accounted for 78 of his 85 total pitches, according to Statcast™, with a handful of curveballs and changeups mixed in.
"It's just one of those times you have to go out and compete," Norris said. "From the jump, I walked the leadoff guy and I'm like, 'All right, I have to fix this and figure it out.' It was definitely a grind, but those are sometimes the fun ones."
Both Hicks and Norris said he was stronger as the game wore on and he found a rhythm with his delivery and an understanding of what was working.
"The slider's been pretty solid for me this year," Norris said, "just trying to spin it."
What also might be working for his fastball is the spin, which remains above average as the velocity ebbs and flows. His average fastball spin rate of 2349 rpm is nearly 100 above the Major League average, according to Statcast™. Meanwhile, his fastball was moving so much in his previous appearance at Cleveland last week that he called some of them "accidental cutters."
"Even though the [velocity] is not 95 right now, I'm still getting swing-and-misses on it when there's life," Norris said. "And that's [about] staying behind the ball and spinning it. That's keeping me alive, even though I'm not throwing 95 right now."
As for the velocity, Norris is at least keeping a sense of humor about it.
"It'll come back. I'm not too worried about it," Norris said. "I've been searching under my bed and in garbage cans and everywhere looking for it, but it'll come back at some point."
In the meantime, he believes it's teaching him a lesson.
"I haven't thrown this slow since I was a sophomore in high school, so I'm figuring something out and I'm learning how to pitch," Norris said. "And when it does come back, I'm going to be a lot better for it."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.