Tigers’ Norris takes it slow after turbulent 2015
LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Before being sent to the minors last year — and before he was diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his thyroid — Daniel Norris pushed himself pretty hard in an effort to make the major league roster in Toronto.
The Blue Jays indeed took him north for the start of the season, but he lasted less than a month before being sent down. Now with the Detroit Tigers, the 22-year-old left-hander doesn’t want that to happen again.
"He felt like he went too hard too fast last year," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "We discussed it and we agreed that we would back off a little bit."
Norris can certainly expect a less turbulent year this time around. His demotion to the minors in 2015 was followed by the discovery of a malignant growth on his thyroid. He decided to keep pitching after being told he could have the growth removed after the season. Then at the trade deadline, Norris went to the Tigers in the deal that sent David Price to Toronto.
An eventful season, to say the least.
"It was crazy," Norris said. "But obviously got through it. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel."
If anyone deserves a chance to prepare for this season at his own pace, it’s Norris, and Ausmus described the plan this year as a "slow buildup" in terms of how much he’ll throw. It may end up being a fairly minor change. Norris remains one of Detroit’s top prospects and a strong candidate to make the starting rotation out of camp.
"Instead of getting on the mound every single day or throwing every single day, you eliminate a day or throw less pitches," Ausmus said.
Norris made five starts last April for the Blue Jays, going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA. After lasting only three innings in an April 30 outing, he was sent to Triple-A Buffalo.
While in the minors, he had an MRI for his shoulder, and that’s when the thyroid growth was found. A doctor told him he could keep pitching, so he did, and after being traded to the Tigers, he made eight more starts in the majors.
"Baseball kept me sane," Norris said.
Norris had already received plenty of attention in spring training last year for his unusual lifestyle — he was living out of his 1978 Volkswagen van. Now he’s known as the pitcher who kept playing after a cancer diagnosis, although he kept that a secret from the public until after the season was over. He had surgery on the growth in October and declared himself cancer free, and he says his offseason routine was largely unaffected by the operation.
Norris pushed his throwing program back a few weeks, which he hopes will pay off as he tries to prepare for the season at the right pace.
"I started a little bit later, and I think it’s helped me a lot," Norris said. "But as far as going out there and competing, I’m still a hundred percent."
The Tigers were happy to get Norris in the deal for Price, but Detroit is not in any sort of rebuilding mode. With a huge payroll and several stars in their 30s, the Tigers are anxious to return to contention after finishing last in the AL Central in 2015.
So although Norris may take things a bit slower during spring training, once the season starts, he could have an opportunity to make a significant impact. After all the ups and downs of 2015, his future still looks bright.
"If he ran into a brick wall, I don’t know if his first thought would be to go around it," Ausmus said. "He’d try to run into it harder."