So when Norris’ call from the bullpen came early, entering with two on and one out and the ultra-patient switch-hitting cleanup batter Carlos Santana at the plate in the third inning, he channeled his adrenaline to Cleveland's threat at hand, not any chance to win a starting job back.
“I was just happy to strand those runners for Skubal. I know that all too well as a starter,” Norris said. “It’s the worst feeling in the world coming out with guys on base, because you want to finish your job -- not that he didn't, because I thought he did a really good job. So I was pretty amped up to keep those guys at bay for him.”
Norris warmed up quickly compared to his longer piggyback routine. He finished the threat just as efficiently -- three pitches, two outs, with help from shortstop Niko Goodrum on a deflected ground ball up the middle.
“That was the best part of the game really,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Our offense came alive after that. You get a pitcher that's banging it in there quick, that's when everything relaxes on the offensive side. He gave us a great opportunity. A big pick-‘em-up by Danny.”
Norris threw three more scoreless innings after that, enough to earn the win in Detroit’s 7-4 victory, his second relief victory this season. He has allowed two runs on six hits over 11 1/3 innings, with one walk and 11 strikeouts in four relief appearances since his lone start against the Reds three weeks ago. In a season when many starters aren’t pitching deep and multi-inning performances from the bullpen are at a premium, Norris might have found a valuable role.
“He just wants to pitch,” Gardenhire said. “We all know he wants to start. … We’ve got lots of starters, and sometimes these roles end up helping them get ready. They get looser quicker on the mound. They learn to do something different. And in the future, maybe he'll get a chance to be a starter, and this is going to help him, being able to come into bigger situations and get big outs. That'll help him down the road.”
“Obviously, I'd love to start. I love starting,” said Norris. “But I wouldn't say that's a driving force. The driving force is just getting people out. I'm pretty psyched on what I've been working on with [pitching coach Rick Anderson]. I feel like the hard work's paying off, mechanics and stuff. But no, I'm not too worried about that. I just want to win ballgames.”
Ironically, Norris' relief success could create an opportunity somewhere else, depending on what the Tigers do by next Monday’s Trade Deadline. Despite injuries, his stuff has always impressed some teams, including his fastball with a high spin rate. With several teams in search of pitching depth and versatility, Detroit welcoming a wave of starting pitchers and Norris nearing free agency after next season, he could draw interest as a lefty swingman.
But Norris isn’t trying to think too far ahead, roles or otherwise.
“I'm not thinking long-term right now. I'm thinking about every single day,” he said Sunday. “I'm already looking forward to my workout. I just want to focus on winning ballgames and just putting myself in a good position to get people out. So whether that's through the workouts or working on the mound, that's my main concern. For me, it would hinder a lot of progression if you think long-term in the sense of starting or bullpen. It's not something I'm really paying much mind to right now.”
Jimenez needs work
The Tigers took a 7-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday before Cleveland rallied for three runs off closer Joe Jiménez, who wasn’t in a save situation but needed the work. Pitching for just the third time in two weeks, Jimenez gave up back-to-back walks to lead off the inning, struck out Yu Chang, then gave up a three-run homer to Greg Allen.
It marked a second rough outing for Jimenez, who gave up four eighth-inning runs in Thursday’s 9-0 loss to the White Sox. After saving each of Detroit’s first four wins in a five-day span, he has one save in August and hasn’t had an opportunity since Aug. 9.
“We haven't been able to get him regular work,” Gardenhire said. “I think it's more from time off than it is the situation he got put in there. He just hasn't been on the mound enough yet because we're not winning games or giving him that chance. He needs more time on the mound, and some way or another, we're going to have to figure out how to get him that.”
• The Tigers lost right-hander Carson Fulmer on waivers to the Pirates on Monday. Detroit designated him for assignment Thursday when Buck Farmer returned from the injured list.
• Jonathan Schoop returned to the Tigers’ lineup Monday after taking a day off Sunday to address a sore hamstring.