Daniel Norris has seen what meaningful September baseball is like from the dugout and the bullpen. Now, he’ll get his chance to experience it on the mound.
The Detroit Tigers’ second-year left-hander will start the opener of a four-game home series against Minnesota on Monday night. The Tigers wrapped up a three-game series against another contender, Baltimore, at Comerica Park on Sunday with their second consecutive loss, 3-1.
The Tigers’ rotation also includes second-player Matt Boyd and rookie Michael Fulmer and they’re all pumped up by the playoff atmosphere.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot, especially me and Boyd and Fulmer,” Norris said. “It’s exciting to be here. It’s exciting to have something to play for. … There’s a different sense of urgency. We (as a team) have a swagger about us that we belong here. It’s fun to come to the ballpark every day and know we have a chance to play into October and through it.”
The Tigers have an opportunity to strengthen their position in the race against a last-place team that they have dominated this season. Detroit is 10-2 against Minnesota.
Norris (2-2) collected his last victory against the Twins on Aug. 25 when he allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings, his longest outing of the year.
“I don’t think some of their struggles have to do with their hitting,” Norris said. “They have a very good lineup and you have to take them very seriously.”
He wound up with no-decisions in his last two outings, including a six-inning start against Kansas City last Sunday when he gave three runs on four hits. He’s tried to keep himself sharp with the extra days in-between starts by throwing two bullpen sessions.
“My main focus is just getting as deep as I can in the game,” he said. “That’s something at times I’ve struggled with but I think I’m getting better with it, just understanding my game and pitching towards that. As long as I go out there and keep us in the game, then I’m doing my job.”
The Tigers’ batters have pummeled Twins pitching this season, averaging 5.9 runs per game while batting .315. Minnesota right-hander Ervin Santana, who will oppose Norris, is one of the few members of the staff that has successfully navigated through Detroit’s lineup.
Santana limited the Tigers to one run in seven innings on July 20 in his only outing against them this season. He’s 9-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 17 career starts against Detroit.
After finishing August with a 13-game losing streak, Minnesota is 4-6 in September, all against American League Central Division foes.
Yet manager Paul Molitor is expected to return next season, as the team’s ownership continues to back him.
“I think everyone in here realizes this has been a year where we had expectations that have fallen way short,” Molitor said to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Sometimes people have to fall when those things happen. I’ve been fortunate that I’m in a position where they’re going to give me another shot to come back and try to do a little bit better the next time around.”
The biggest bright spot for the Twins has been second baseman Brian Dozier, who has 39 home runs. He’s hit three against the Tigers, though he only has a .174 average against them. Dozier has not homered in the last four games.
“I’m sure once the offseason hits and I reflect on the offseason, (I can say), ‘OK I had a decent year’ or whatever you want to call it,” Dozier said to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “But doggonit, we’re on pace to lose over 100 games. Something is still off and it doesn’t sit well with me.”
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is questionable to play in the series because of a sore quad.