How Daniel Norris ended up with a 54-pitch inning
Daniel Norris took the mound Tuesday night with a pitch count around 80-85 in his third start back from the disabled list, having missed nearly a month with an oblique strain. It wasn’t simply a limit; it was a goal to get him there.
By the time he stepped back in the dugout, he had used up 54 pitches.
“It’s tough,” manager Brad Ausmus said, “because we wanted to get his pitch count up so his next start he can throw more pitches [Sunday against the White Sox in his final start], but we also don’t want him to expend himself in one inning.”
He came very close.
“[Chris] Gimenez would’ve been the last guy had he not retired him,” Ausmus said.
Gimenez was the ninth batter in the Rangers lineup. Two of the previous eight had reached on errors — Delino DeShields on a ground ball that Ian Kinsler couldn’t handle, Mike Napoli on a fly ball that first baseman Jefry Marte didn’t get under and dropped, capping a 10-pitch at-bat without an out. Norris immediately asked for the ball, looking to pick up his defense.
“As far as errors go, that’s part of the game,” Norris said. “It’s gonna happen. I’ve always got their back. They’ve got mine.”
Norris still didn’t have an out at that point, having crossed the 30-pitch mark. He finally got one on an Mitch Moreland groundout. Even that was arguably misplayed, as third baseman Nick Castellanos took the safe out at first base rather than try to force out Prince Fielder at third base beforehand.
Norris, too, had his share of miscues. Shin-Soo Choo followed Ian Kinsler by jumping a first-pitch fastball for a two-run homer.
“I left that pitch up,” Norris said. “If I make my pitch, it’s a double play maybe. … The fact of the matter is, if I make my pitches, I get out of there with less than 54 pitches.”
That said, he was still out there well into his 40s. Rougned Odor used seven pitches out of him before hitting an RBI triple to score Napoli, leaving Norris at 46 pitches with Gimenez due up. Norris’ velocity was still strong, his adrenaline carrying him, but the count itself was a worry. Buck Farmer had been warming in the bullpen for a few batters.
Ausmus has let pitchers work their way out of the opening inning through 50 pitches or more this season. David Price used 51 pitches in the first inning against the Yankees back in April. Randy Wolf used 50 pitches in the first at Cleveland a couple weeks ago in the second game of a doubleheader. Neither made it past the third.
Both Price and Wolf are veteran pitchers. Norris is just 22. He has experience with high pitch counts early — 78 pitches over three innings for the Blue Jays on April 30, 83 pitches over 3 1/3 innings in his second start as a Tiger Aug. 7.
“I’ve been here before,” Norris said. “All in all, I felt pretty good throwing the ball. It’s just one of those days.”
Said Ausmus: “I think the first inning probably taxed him a little bit, but like I said, we also wanted to get his pitch count up enough so that his next start he could stick around. It was a very blurred line [on a limit].”
Norris and Gimenez battled for eight pitches before Norris got the out.
“I don’t know if I would’ve let him take me out,” Norris said. “I wanted to stay out there. Obviously it’s his decision, but I’m glad he let me in. Regardless of what other people think, that shows the confidence he has in me to let me go back out for the second inning. I appreciate that, for sure.”
He wasn’t out there for long. After a DeShields double, Choo groundout and Adrian Beltre single, Norris retired Prince Fielder and got the hook there. He was at 71 pitches.
“We wanted him to go 80-85 today,” Ausmus said, “but after he retired Fielder, I just felt like with the 50-pich inning, just over 70 pitches [total], his velocity started to dip down from 94-95 to 90-91. At that point, right-hander coming up, Farmer coming up, just get him out of there. He should be able to throw 80, 85, 90 next time out.”
According to STATS, Norris’ 54-pitch first inning was the longest inning of any kind by a Major League pitcher since former Pirates starter Paul Maholm threw a 54-pitch third inning against the Cardinals on May 9, 2010. It was the longest opening inning since then-Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez threw 55 pitches at Atlanta on Aug. 1, 2007.