In the progression of Daniel Norris, the 22-year old pitcher has worked to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
It’s not just about his pitch count and the strike zone. It’s also about managing the game with runners on base.
While Norris took the loss as the Buffalo Bisons dropped a 2-1 decision to the Indianapolis Indians at Coca-Cola Field Wednesday afternoon, he was more comfortable on the mound, executing good pitches in key situations as he inches his way back to the major leagues.
“Anybody can pitch with nobody on base. What do you do when you’re in a jam?” manager Gary Allenson said. “In the past, there’s been a few times, he can get in trouble and it’s an uncomfortable feeling and he tries so hard to get out of it everything speeds up. He did a real good job today of slowing down and taking it one pitch at a time.”
Norris gave up seven hits and walked four, but only gave up two runs in his 6 1/3 innings of work.
Three times he ended innings with strikeouts, including the second and fourth with runners in scoring position.
“It shouldn’t be any different,” Norris said of pitching with runners on base. “Maybe things get more intense but I just try to focus in and make pitches when I need to. … Definitely I was more relaxed today.”
His comfort level showed. He threw 61 of his 94 pitches for strikes. His slider and fastball were solid and he added a few timely changeups. He struck out four.
He also walked four. No one asked Norris about the walks, but he kept bringing up the walks after the game.
“I walked four but it felt like I was in way better control and command of the strike zone for the most part,” Norris said. “A couple of those walks kinda happened too quickly, but I felt really good today.”
Ask him about hitting the strike zone, which he did regularly, and again Norris detoured to the walks.
“I really did,” feel like I was hitting the zone “especially starting off the game,” Norris said. “I felt really good and was in the zone a lot. Like I said, giving up the four walks, I felt like that didn’t indicate the way I threw the ball today.”
Perhaps the walks bothered him so much because the winning run was a result of a walk. With the game knotted, 1-1, Norris came out to start the seventh. He walked the leadoff batter, Alen Hanson. A sacrifice moved Hanson to second and he then scored on a double up the middle by Steve Lombardozzi. That’s when Norris left the game.
But the few hiccups didn’t detract from an otherwise solid outing.
“He wasn’t perfect today, but he could have competed in the big leagues with the stuff he had today,” Allenson said.
Norris fell to 1-3 with his ERA dropping to 3.18. It was his third quality start in five outings with the Herd since being optioned to the Bisons on May.
But when Norris evaluates his last month in Buffalo, he’s less concerned with the numbers and more concerned with qualitative measurements.
“I’m getting more comfortable and I think more than anything my arm just feels good,” Norris said. “That’s all I care about. I know when my arm is right, I know I can go out there and compete any time. Everything else will fall into place.”