Billed as a game in which the Los Angeles Dodgers would be able to get an up-close-and-personal look at Archer -- the Tampa Bay Rays starter they could end up making a deal for at the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline -- Norris refused to be overlooked.
An Archer acquisition by the Dodgers could come at Norris’ expense; he wouldn’t necessarily be included in a deal, but might have to eventually vacate his rotation spot. Instead, Norris looked determined to leave his own impact Tuesday.
Taking the mound four days after offering 1⅓ innings of relief in a 16-inning loss at St. Louis, Norris showed how he can be a team player in multiple areas. He gave up just two hits over 6⅓ scoreless innings, leaving after walking a batter in the seventh inning and throwing 104 pitches.
The Dodgers supported Norris with just enough offense, and the bullpen white-knuckled its way to finishing off a 3-2 victory to open a brief two-game series and five-game homestand.
“You have to locate pitches, and it’s not easy,” Norris said. “I mentioned it after my last start: Once the ball leaves your hand you’re out of control of the play. I made some better pitches tonight, [Yasmani Grandal] did a great job behind the plate and the guys made the plays behind me. I was able to stay in a positive mindset and make pitches.”
Norris was not a high-profile acquisition for the rotation after Clayton Kershaw went to the disabled list with a lower-back issue. He resembled more of an innings-eater type who was on a bit of a hot streak.
Even with his scoreless outing against the Rays, Norris has a 4.40 ERA in his six games (five starts) in a Dodgers uniform. He was even the losing pitcher the last two times he took the ball, including the marathon in St. Louis, when he gave up a game-ending blast to Matt Adams.
On Tuesday, though, Norris was more like the pitcher who delivered six scoreless innings in his Dodgers debut July 1 against Colorado.
“I think that even before he came over, he was really throwing the ball well, and I still think the best of Bud Norris, we’re still going to see,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Tonight he was really good. And he’ll say this too: There is even more in there. For him to come here, he wants to be a Dodger and to give us a huge lift, he expects that of himself and of us, the same.”
Those kind of outings have been fairly commonplace for Archer, third in American League rookie of the year voting in 2013 and fifth in AL Cy Young voting last year, when he went a modest 12-13 but posted a 3.23 ERA.
This season he has been all over the map. He leads the AL in losses with 14, yet also entered leading with 147 strikeouts and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Not only would his current 4.42 ERA be the highest of his career, so would his 1.395 WHIP.
But at just 27, his upside remains high, even if his season has not matched his potential. Tuesday was more of what he is all about, giving up his only earned run in seven innings on a Grandal home run. (He gave up two other runs in the third inning that were unearned because of a pair of errors.)
He needed just 84 pitches to complete his outing, working a changeup and his patented slider to set up his fastball.
“Archer very good,” Roberts said. “The pitch count was still low, there was a lot of swing-and-miss and he’s a kid that just repeats his delivery and has a plus-plus slider. He punches out a lot of guys. That was the first time I got to see him up close and personal, and it makes sense. It really makes sense. Talking to our guys, the ball has real true life, he pitches at the top and the bottom of the zone.”
If the Dodgers were to acquire Archer, Roberts would seem to approve. But not everybody on the Dodgers is itching for the front office to make changes. Norris and closer Kenley Jansen were among those that are pleased with the group the Dodgers have now.
Jansen, though, isn’t going anywhere. Norris would seem to have a reason to take an interest in the proceedings over the next week.
“I’m not worried about it,” Norris said. “I have to go out there and pitch when I’m told to pitch. Even this year I spent a month in the bullpen so I know what that is and how you can help a team win games. What we go out and do or don’t do, that’s up to [the front office].
“I think they are looking at the collective group here and they’re pretty excited and maybe we’re one piece away is how they’re looking at it. But in our opining we have a 25-man roster and some other [injured players] coming and we can really run something off. So stay positive, go out there and play the game.”