CHICAGO – The Detroit Tigers picked up an exciting comeback victory Thursday against the Chicago White Sox, and it was largely thanks to a late outburst by the offense.
But there was an unsung hero who gave the Tigers an opportunity to win when the White Sox lead grew to three runs.
Starting pitcher Daniel Norris was called upon in relief Thursday after his first scheduled start was postponed Wednesday due to weather. There have been rumblings about Norris being sent to Triple-A Toledo as the odd man out of the rotation, but he did his best to prove he belongs in the Big Leagues.
Norris' first outing
Norris took over with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning and runners at the corners. The Tigers were already trailing 6-3, so it was a critical moment in the game.
Norris got the out he needed to strand a pair of runners, and then he got into a nice groove. He struck out a pair of batters in a 1-2-3 sixth inning and struck out the side in the seventh. He lost his control for a moment in the seventh, walking two batters and allowing an RBI double, but it came back in the eighth, when he picked up his sixth strikeout in another 1-2-3 frame.
When he was relieved by Joe Jimenez in the ninth inning, Norris had six strikeouts in 3.1 innings, allowing just one hit, two walks and one run.
The most impressive part of Norris' outing was the ability to miss bats. He threw 49 pitches and recorded 13 swinging strikes, which is incredibly impressive for such a short outing.
Norris' full arsenal was on display Thursday. He's incredibly valuable as a pitcher who can miss bats on a roster that is otherwise light on strikeouts.
After just one relief appearance, Norris is second on the team in strikeouts behind Jordan Zimmermann, who has thrown three times as many innings.
The Tigers have innings eaters such as Francisco Liriano and Mike Fiers in the rotation, but none of them have the upside of Norris. He was the team's No. 1 prospect after being acquired in the David Price trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, and along with Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd, he could have a bright future in the organization.
While the Tigers are rebuilding and stocking up on young talent, they should give Norris a chance to prove himself at the MLB level and cement his spot in the future rotation. He's had his struggles with injuries and inconsistencies, but has the tools to be a good left-handed starter.
Ron Gardenhire won't know what he has in Norris if he doesn't give the 24-year-old a chance. Just last season, pitchers such as Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo and Luke Weaver enjoyed breakout years in Norris' age range. There's no downside to the Tigers giving him a chance to do the same.
What to expect
One outing can't prove whether Norris deserves a spot on the roster, but it did prove how much potential the former top prospect still has. Detroit owns four of the top right-handed pitching prospects in baseball, so Norris could be exactly what the Tigers need as a compliment in the middle of the future rotation.
Norris has never made 20 starts in a season, but it's the beginning of the season and he's healthy, so it's a perfect time for the Tigers to give him a chance. When they were competing for a playoff spot the last two seasons, the Tigers couldn't afford to give Norris a long leash when he struggled.
Now that there's less on the line, it would be beneficial for Norris to try to get through a full season and all the highs and lows that come with it.