BOWIE -- The Orioles made a surprise move by sending right-hander Bud Norris to Double-A Bowie so he could get work in over the All-Star break.
Because he had made just one start since coming off the disabled list with a right groin strain, the organization wanted to get Norris back into a midseason rhythm for the second half.
But pitching under the summer sun in an 11:05 a.m. game against the Richmond Flying Squirrels in front of a sparse crowd at Prince George’s Stadium on Monday was a challenge.
Norris walked into the Bowie clubhouse with his face red and holding his drenched Baysox jersey in his hand, saying these were the hottest conditions he has ever pitched in as a professional. Coming up through the Houston Astros system, there were some hot days in Double-A in Corpus Christi, Texas, according to Norris, but none with the midday heat of Monday.
Ultimately, getting Norris, who spent nearly 2 1/2 weeks on the DL before returning Wednesday, near 100 pitches was the main goal.
And even though he lasted just 4 1/3 innings Monday, allowing three runs and four hits while walking five batters and striking out seven, Norris ended his day having thrown 98 pitches. That's most he had thrown in exactly a month, since he tossed 112 pitches June 14 in a win over the Toronto Blue Jays. His fastball sat at 91-93 mph and hit 94 mph Monday.
“Pitch count was the No. 1 priority,” Norris said. “Felt pretty good. It was obviously extremely hot out there, but I worked through it, and that's something I'm going to have to get used to more and more. But [I] threw some really good changeups. Four-seam [fastball] location, got a little bit better with that. Slider was a little shaky, but for the most part, I felt good. Didn't feel my leg, arm feels 100 percent, and I'm just happy with the work."
Norris was granted permission by Richmond to pitch with major league baseballs. Pitchers on minor league rehabilitation assignments are allowed to pitch using major league baseballs, but a pitcher who is optioned must get the permission of the opposing team. Eastern League baseballs have wider seams.
Norris was still shaky with his control, needing 60 pitches to get through his first three innings. But he also went through a span when he recorded four straight strikeouts and five of six.
Richmond right fielder Jarrett Parker opened the fourth inning with a shot to center field on which Johnny Ruettiger made a diving attempt, but it went past him and to the fence. Three batters later, Parker scored on Eliezer Zambrano’s two-out RBI single up the middle. Norris got out of the inning after ending a 12-pitch at-bat against No. 9 hitter Ryan Lollis with his seventh and final strikeout of the day.
“Yeah, like a 12-pitch at-bat or something,” Norris said. “They’re good hitters, too. They’re going to put some swings on some balls. But it’s good to have a good at-bat like that and win it and get the final out and not walk the guy 3-2 after a bunch of pitches. It’s good. I grinded in a couple, and they made me work for a few. Like I said, I got my pitches, and I’m leaving healthy, which is good.”
Norris allowed two runs in the fifth on Mario Lisson’s one-out double, which chased him from the game.
In years past, the Orioles have sent starters Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen to the minors to pitch over the All-Star break to remain fresh. Last week, they sent Norris and right-hander Miguel Gonzalez to the minors on consecutive days with the same purpose.
Norris is now scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday and then make his next start with the Orioles on July 21 in the series opener on the road against the Los Angeles Angels.
"It was a work day, for sure,” Norris said. “I understand the reasoning why we did all this stuff, and I'm glad we did it, and in the grand scheme, it's going to help me stay on track. I already had some time off, which I don't necessarily need anymore. Pretty excited with the work day. Got the work in, and the pitch count's where it needs to be. I felt good, and I'm leaving healthy. I'll definitely take some time here in the next few days and keep working, and I'll be ready to go for L.A."