SPORTS

Celebrated Jays prospect Daniel Norris shows lively arm in spring outing

03/05/2015 09:43 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT
SARASOTA, Fla. - Jays left-hander Daniel Norris showed off a lively arm and the ability to adjust on the go in his first start of the spring Thursday night against a well-stocked Baltimore Orioles lineup.

Norris, a celebrated prospect looking to nail down Toronto's fifth starter spot, quickly got leadoff hitter Manny Machado in an 0-2 hole but eventually gave up a single. After a flyout, he walked Adam Jones to put men on first and second.

Strikeouts of Delmon Young, who went down to a wicked curveball, and Chris Davis ended a long first inning that had threatened to go south.

Norris exited after two quick outs in a more effective second. He threw 36 pitches, 22 for strikes, in facing seven batters on a balmy 22-degree night that drew a crowd of 6,078 to picturesque Ed Smith Stadium.

Davis's three-run homer off Chad Jenkins in the third and Jonathan Schoop's two-run blast off Cory Burns in the seventh lifted the Orioles (1-2) to a 5-0 pre-season victory over the Jays (1-2).

Baltimore outhit Toronto 8-4.

Norris said he noticed during the first inning he was dropping his front shoulder, causing him to get behind hitters. He made the adjustment and his pitches starting doing what they were supposed to.

"That was big for me," he said.

The 21-year-old from Tennessee started last season in Class-A and rose all the way to the major leagues, seeing action in five games for the Jays. He says that brief exposure to the big leagues has helped him this spring.

"Seeing those names before, I'm maybe not as intimidated as I was in September."

Norris has drawn plenty of attention for his surfer lifestyle back-story which includes a penchant for going off the grid in his 1978 mustard-coloured Volkswagen camper van dubbed Shaggy. A photo of him shaving with an axe also added to the aura despite the fact it was staged for a modelling shoot.

His Twitter bio states his credo: "I live to find 3 things. 1. Eternal life. 2. The strike zone. & 3. Good waves."

It's perhaps not what one would expect from someone who got a US$2-million signing bonus from the Jays, who drafted him in the second round (74th overall) out of high school in 2011.

The Norris legend grew Thursday with an ESPN profile titled "The Man in the Van," which called him "the most interesting pitcher in baseball."

"I thought they got the wrong guy," Norris said of the compliment.

Asked about the attention, he conceded he was "not a huge fan of it."

"It's kind of weird," he added. "I understand at this point, it's kind of inevitable ... I'd rather just kind of tuck away a little bit and just play ball."

Manager John Gibbons, a straight-shooter from Texas, enjoys Norris' outlook.

"He's a different bird," he said before the game. "Any time you live in a van, I wouldn't say that's normal ... If he's successful I don't know how long he'd continue to live in a van. Everybody would be looking for that van.

"But it's kind of a neat story. Unusual, but he's a neat kid too."

Baseball America lists Norris as the Jays' top prospect in 2015 — as well as No. 18 across all teams — and Gibbons likes what he sees.

"He's a student of the game," he said. "He's a very smart kid and he is grounded. And he's determined. So we'll see. He's got the most important thing — he's got a great arm, so that can take him a long way."

Norris, says Gibbons, just has to acclimate to the majors where everything is magnified.

"Once they have a little success and think 'You know what? I can do this,' and you combine that with a great arm, that's how stars are born," Gibbons said.

The Jays left their big names at home for the road trip, with the focus on Norris and newly acquired Cuban outfielder Dayan Viciedo.

Starting at DH, Viciedo ground out, struck out and flied out deep to centre.

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