Daniel Norris never felt better going into a Major League Baseball season.
The Detroit Tigers pitcher was finally healthy and ready to go before the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball and much of American life. Still, the former Science Hill star is doing the work to keep himself in shape, throwing bullpen sessions and working out to be ready when the season does start.
“It’s tough. I’m feeling as good as ever and I have to put the brakes on,” said the 26-year-old left-hander. “But I’m feeling good throughout all this and am ready to go whenever they give us the green light.”
Norris, who sports a 15-30 career record with 382 strikeouts and a 4.49 ERA, found his speed was improving along with his health. He also has experience on his side going into his seventh season in the major leagues.
“This spring, my fastball was back up to 95 (mph),” Norris said. “I was really happy to have the velocity back. I had a positive changeup that I learned last year and was able to throw better. I had some mixed results in the spring, but I was working on some stuff.
“Like I said, my body hasn’t felt this good in years now.”
Norris is staying in Tampa during the pandemic. Though the Tigers’ complex is now shut down, he has friends to work out with. He’s not facing hitters but still feels good about where he is.
Norris said he is also paying attention to the team’s medical staff, staying away from family in Johnson City and his new home in Santa Barbara, California.
“When all this went down, I wanted to see everyone,” Norris noted. “I had to take the advice of the doctors and trainers, and all of them said to stay here.
“It’s not worth the risk at this point.”
Norris is coming off a rough 3-13 season, one in which he and Detroit’s other pitchers found little run support. The Tigers ranked last in the majors in runs scored in 2019.
Norris was expecting significant improvement in that area following the team’s offseason acquisitions, among them outfielder Cameron Maybin, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, first baseman C.J. Cron and catcher Allen Romine.
“We were excited about what we were about to put on the field,” Norris said. “This spring, everyone was swinging the bat well. Everyone was healthy, so that’s a little bit of a bummer to put that on hold. But if it’s meant to be, it will be, and we will be ready to go.”
Currently, the league is exploring options for when the season opens. Proposals include playing games in empty stadiums and a specific plan to bring players and coaches to Arizona.
Norris and his teammates, of course, prefer to be in front of the fans, but they’re eager to get back on the field as soon as safely possible.
“Honestly at this point, we just want to play ball,” he said. “We play for the fans and they’re the reason we get to go out there and do what we do. At the end of the day, they are going to be able to watch us on TV and see us on the field.
“I think everybody is understanding of the circumstances in the worst-case scenario that they don’t get to be in the stands. It would be weird for sure, but at the same, I think we are ready for us to play ball. ”