Detroit Tigers Seeing Growing Pains in Daniel Norris

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 13: Daniel Norris
ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 13: Daniel Norris /

The Detroit Tigers are floundering and one of their building blocks for the future, Daniel Norris, is struggling on the bump.

The Detroit Tigers don’t have it as easy anymore.

They’re spiraling away from the American League powerhouse they once were, and are moving into rebuild mode. They’ve dangerously teetered the line of owning the league’s worst record for the last month, currently holding on to a 1.5 game edge over the Oakland Athletics.

And now, one of their arms of the future is, well, broken. The team announced Thursday that Daniel Norris had been placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left groin strain, retroactive to his July 5 start.

Tigers’ beat writer Evan Woodbery is unsure as to what the move truly means, and what the club will do moving forward.

Norris hasn’t been as tip-top as some may have projected so far in 2017. He’s 4-7 with an ERA north of five, and has allowed five earned runs in each of his last three starts. The walks are a problem; he tied a season-high four in Wednesday’s outing versus San Francisco. The strikeouts are spotty; five combined in his last two starts compared to 13 in the previous two.

But it’s no surprise, almost expected, that a 24-year old kid with 221 innings to his name weaves in and out of trouble frequently. Growing pains, to say the least.

So while Norris hopes to regain what he flashed in 2016, one thing comes to mind: Norris just might be the second-coming of Rick Porcello.

Yes, the Rick Porcello the Tigers drafted 27th overall in the summer of 2007 that compiled a 76-50 with a 4.51 ERA over the first six seasons of his career in Detroit. The 2016 Cy Young Winner, that is. Sorry, Kate.

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Porcello, like Norris, was a highly-touted prospect that burst onto the scene with the hopes of being a cornerstone piece of the rotation weighing on his shoulders. In his rookie year in 2009, Porcello finished second on the team with 14 wins, and sixth with a 2.5 WAR.

The following summer, the then-21 year old turned in a clunker of a season. He won four less games than he did in 2009, he lost three more, and his ERA ballooned 0.96 points. A sophomore slump at its finest.

What makes these two pitchers so comparable is their abilities to go off-again and on-again. In 2014, Porcello went 24 straight innings without allowing a run, including two back-to-back complete game shutouts. Fast forward one year and there he was, throwing the least amount of innings of his career, and now a Red Sox uniform tying a career-worst 4.92 ERA.

And the biggest thing of all: Pretty Ricky won the most prestigious award for a pitcher last season. This year, he’s 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA, and well on his way to allowing the most home runs in his career.

Norris is also hit or miss. He impressed in the latter half of 2016 with four straight games of two earned runs or less to conclude his second year in Detroit. He received the stamp of approval this January, when manager Brad Ausmus believed he’s “got the stuff” to play an integral role in the rotation.

And then this. This frustrating, head-scratching, vexing 2017 the southpaw is currently having. It’s Porcello-esque: an outing that seems to be turning the corner is wiped clean by the inevitable dud.

It’s frustrating for Tiger fans, and reasonably so. We’ve been spoiled with young arms like Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer, who were major league ready right off the bat. Norris, however, needs time to mature, just like any 24-year old would.

A trip to Toledo may not be a bad idea after all for the Van Man when he recovers from the pesky groin strain. Max Scherzer and Robbie Ray, two of the National League’s hottest pitchers, both benefitted from frequent minor league trips to begin their careers. Scherzer even used a two-game stint with the Mud Hens in 2010 to get right. Ever since that, he and Clayton Kershaw are widely considered the best starters the game has to offer.

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Not much is going right at the moment for the Tigers. This 2017 campaign is a lost cause, and Norris is likely looked at as a key member of the rotation moving forward. It’s best he goes to Toledo now in hopes of rediscovering what got him to the bigs.

It should serve him well later on in his career.