DETROIT — Daniel Norris battled cancer, fought through a back injury and spent an extended period in the minor leagues. He’s finally in the place he expected to be this season — the Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation.
Norris makes his second start for the Tigers in the finale of a nine-game homestand Wednesday afternoon against Miami. Detroit is 5-3 on the homestand after defeating the Marlins 7-5 on Tuesday.
The second-year left-hander got a no-decision against Seattle on Thursday, allowing three runs — all solo home runs — in five innings with five strikeouts. He’s trying to solidify a spot in the five-man rotation.
"As of right now, I just appreciate every day that I’m here," said Norris, who will be making his first career appearance against the Marlins.
It’s understandable he feels that way after a rocky road back to the majors. Norris was the top prospect the Tigers acquired in the non-waiver deadline deal that sent ace David Price to Toronto last season. He made eight starts with Detroit last season, going 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA.
Norris was diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly after the season and underwent surgery in late October. He was pronounced cancer free but suffered a back injury in spring training.
He was sent to the minors during his recovery and wound up making 11 starts for Triple-A Toledo before he was recalled.
"I felt like I couldn’t catch a breath for awhile," he said. "It was just one thing after another. I just tried to wake up thinking good thoughts and being positive about it. Sure, I had some days where I said ‘What’s going on here?’ When I hurt my back in the spring, it was really hard to focus because I had so many expectations for this year. Those had to be delayed but I knew my time would come at some point."
Detroit manager Brad Ausmus believes Norris’ biggest challenge now is not dwelling on his mistakes.
"The progress I’d like to see from him is not beating himself up so much when he gives up a hit or a home run," Ausmus said. "You’ve got to learn to put it behind you because it might affect the next batter you’re facing."
Miami altered its rotation for the next two games. Right-hander Tom Koehler starts against the Tigers while lefty Wei-Yin Chen will pitch the series opener at Atlanta on Thursday. Left-hander Adam Conley started Tuesday and couldn’t get out of the fifth after tossing four scoreless innings.
"It’s really a chance to give (Chen) a little bit of a breather but Atlanta is just stacked with lefties and these guys (the Tigers) are stacked with righties," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "It makes a little sense for us to flip those two guys and it also allows us to split our lefties, rather than having them back-to-back."
Koehler has only faced Detroit once — a late September start in 2013 when he pitched 5 1/3 innings in a 3-2 victory.
Miami is 9-5 over its last 14 games with the aid of some stellar defense. Its infield has not committed an error since May 29, a 27-game streak. It’s the longest such streak since at least 1913.
"In general, I think we’re a good defensive team," Mattingly said. "We’ve got a lot of guys that catch the ball well. It was a trademark before we got here. It’s one of our strengths that we’re usually in the right spot. We were a little rough early but for the most part, we haven’t given up a bunch of extra bases or extra outs."