Daniel Norris changes it up


As Thursday came to a close, it’s no stranger to any Jays fan that rookie starting pitcher Daniel Norris had a good day on the mound. In six innings pitched, Norris fanned seven Orioles batters while allowing three hits– two of which doubles– and one hit-by-pitch. There’s not a lot of words to describe that but, wow.

And although it’s still spring training, it’s not like the Orioles marched out a minor league lineup this afternoon. All of the regulars that pounded their way to the playoffs last year were there in Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Steve Pearce, Adam Jones and Caleb Joseph.

It should also be put on the record that Norris made Machado look like a 5 year-old trying to hit a 10-ft high piñata at a birthday party. Machado was punched out twice in the game, once by his new–potentially best–pitch in his repertoire, the changeup.

But it’s not like this changeup was invented out of thin air. As Norris tells Scott MacArthur of TSN, he’s had the pitch for a long time. FanGraphs even has it pro-rated as a plus pitch at 45/50+. But yesterday, according to the amateur scout hammering away at his keyboard, it looked more like 60+.

What changed for Norris was simple, nothing. Norris essentially benefitted from being himself; a humble–never too high or too low– athlete, willing to heed to the advice of anyone trying to improve his game. This time it was pitching coach Pete Walker.

Walker suggested to Norris that he work on a pitch that goes the opposite way of his other off-speed pitches (curveball and slider) instead of his current cut-changeup that still broke in on right handed hitters. Norris’ response to Walker, according MacArthur, “Yeah, if it’s going to make me better, I’ll do it, sure.”

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Thursday afternoon, it was night and day better for Norris. The changeup was falling off the table and into temporary catcher Josh Thole‘s glove. When batters managed to make contact, they were either out on their front foot, popping it up, or rolling over on it, inducing several manageable ground balls.

It’s impossible to know if Norris will be able to continue the filthiness of this pitch in his future outings. This writer sure hopes so and it’s at least conceivable that he can. If so, this lefty can be a lot more than just a plug in a Stroman-less rotation: He has the chance to be a legitimate candidate for rookie of the year.

But, let’s not put the cart ahead of the horse. Norris threw around 80 pitches today, most of which were obviously fastballs and really, it is still spring training, a land where results are tossed out the window with the mere flip of the calendar.

Nonetheless, yesterday was something worth noting.