The Orioles will face a familiar face in Wednesday afternoon's series finale against the Dodgers – a revitalized Bud Norris, who Los Angeles just acquired last week to bolster its starting rotation after ace Clayton Kershaw went on the disabled list.
Norris, a 15-game winner for the Orioles' division champion team in 2014, struggled mightily last year and was designated for assignment at the trade deadline when the team simply could no longer keep him on the roster. Norris, who went through a long bout with bronchitis, went 2-9 with a 7.06 ERA in 18 appearances before the Orioles cut bait after a demotion to the bullpen that didn't work out.
Now, Norris is back pitching for a contender, and he said that embracing his cutter – a pitch he rarely used in Baltimore – and shelving his changeup, has paid off.
"I've always had the cutter in my arsenal," Norris said. "When I was in Baltimore down the stretch, [Matt] Wieters and I, [Nick] Hundley and I, we definitely mixed that in. It got some big outs for me, even in the postseason start in Detroit [in Game 3 of the AL Division Series]. I got some big outs with that pitch, but now I've found out how confident I am in it and how many more I can throw in the game."
Norris is throwing the cutter 8.6 percent of the time this season, up from 1.31 percent last season. He threw the pitch 4.18 percent of the time during his best year with the Orioles in 2014. Meanwhile, he's gradually removed the changeup from his arsenal, from 8.57 percent in 2014 to 5.72 last year to 3.27 percent this season.
"I just have a lot more confidence in that pitch," Norris said. "I found a mechanical [motion] that I really need to continue to work on as far as direction and it's really kind taken off. It's definitely a new pitch, but it's been there. I just feel like I'm throwing it a little bit more and locating it a little bit more as well."
Norris was 3-7 with a 4.22 ERA with the last-place Braves, but he posted a 2.15 ERA in five starts since returning to the Atlanta rotation and held Colorado to two hits over six scoreless innings in his Dodgers debut on Friday.
"A lot of it hasn't set in, but I know how hard I worked and I know what I had to do to get back to it," Norris said. "I really had to take my offseason that serious and I didn't travel a lot and just took care of my body. I obviously got really sick and it kind of propelled me down a path that I spiraled downhill and I really couldn't get out of that rut.
"Even when I got to San Diego, I still wasn't the pitcher I knew I was capable of being. I was battling my body and this job is hard enough as it is. … I just felt bad and I put pressure on myself and to be honest, some of it was self-inflicted at times, which was tough."
Norris said signing with the Braves – a team currently in rebuilding mode – gave him the ability to rebuild his arsenal and his confidence.
"I was worried because I didn't know what to expect going into free agency after having an amazing year in '14 and really falling off the face in '15, to a certain degree," Norris said. "But they called me early and said, 'Hey we have a hole in our rotation and we're looking for a veteran guy.' … I knew I wanted to find a home and kind of just prepare for that. … They have a great organization, especially with pitchers."