It’s another spring and another chance for Daniel Norris to make the Detroit Tigers’ pitching rotation.
This time, the 25-year-old left-hander is trying a more aggressive, mixed-martial arts approach to his training that includes tae kwon do, jiujitsu and kickboxing.
“I’m really conscious about my body, and I know that’s odd to hear because I’m hurt all the time,” Norris said Friday. “But I really care about my body. I really work hard on it, so I’m looking for ways to get better and stay healthy. This made a lot of sense to me.”
He exercised in California and Tennessee before arriving at spring training in late January, and he has continued the program with a trainer in nearby Tampa now that organized spring drills have started.
“I’m starting to feel my explosiveness come back and I feel it on the mound,” Norris said. “The biggest thing is my stride length is back. I lost a foot off of it last year because of the groin (injury). Now it’s back to normal and it’s back on line.”
How the new fitness program will affect his pitching remains to be seen. But pitching ability has not been Norris’ problem, Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said.
“This kid can pitch. He’s got good stuff. He’s just got to stay healthy, stay on the mound,” Gardenhire said. “We’re going to build his arm strength up and try to stretch him out and as far as the rotation goes, he’s got an opportunity down here. We’re going to let him battle right with these other guys.”
With Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer returning and the winter signings of veterans Matt Moore and Tyson Ross, Norris appears to be sixth on the starting chart. But with the regular season six weeks away, he knows he has a chance to move into the rotation.
“That’s my goal. That’s what I’m shooting for,” said Norris, who shaved off a thick, black beard this week. “If I end up in the bullpen, I end up in the bullpen, but I’m training. I’m stretching out as a starter right now and I fully expect that. I expect a lot out of myself.”
The outlook was similar in each of the last three springs, but Norris was set back by oblique and vertebrae injuries in 2016 and by quad and groin injuries in 2017. Last year he had surgery on his left groin in May, which kept him out of the majors until six starts in September. He didn’t win a game.
“After surgery last year I was really hesitant to use my lower half,” he said. “I was afraid of starting this year with an injury. I was afraid of a lot of stuff. In the offseason I thought I’ve got to get that trust back, so I started training for that. I wanted that explosiveness back.”
Pitching coach Rick Anderson, who was shown Norris’ workout regimen before they came to spring training, said the left-hander is “light years ahead” of where he was at the end of last season.
The length of Norris’ pitching stride, which was down to about 5 feet when he was trying to compensate for the groin pain last year, is back to 6 feet during his bullpen sessions, and Norris said his fastball is back up to 90 mph.
“Now it’s just about staying healthy and staying on the field,” Gardenhire said.