Bud Norris is coming off the worst start of his career. Wednesday’s abbreviated outing against the Oakland Athletics wreaked havoc on Bud’s numbers. The question that Bud will have to answer is: How did it affect his psyche? Norris entered the contest with a sparkling 1.96 ERA after pitching well in his first three starts of the season. But six runs, five hits, three walks, and only two outs later, Bud was sporting a not-so-spiffy 4.74 figure.
Baseball, like most sports, is a game of momentum. Although momentum can be tangible (we can see it change from one team to another) it’s existence is mostly within the psyche of the players. How Norris pitches tonight against the Mariners could have a domino effect on the rest of his season. If he pitches like he did in his first three outings, Norris could go on to have the breakout season we’ve all been waiting for. If he pitches poorly Bud could spiral into a deep abyss reminiscent of his 2012 season.
Last Wednesday in Oakland Norris said he had trouble gripping the ball — blaming the somewhat blustery conditions for a portion of his struggles. Tonight Norris will be pitching at Minute Maid Park — where, despite a disappointing overall season, he posted one of the best home ERAs in the league in 2012. He will also be facing a Seattle team that has had trouble getting on track offensively in the early going. Those are the positives.
Norris will also be well-rested. He has had five days off since throwing only 46 pitches in Oakland. That could be either a positive or a negative. His mound opponent tonight will be Hisashi Iwakuma. The Mariners’ righty has been stellar in his first four starts of the season, compiling a 2-0 record and a ridiculous 0.52 WHIP. If the Astros offense has trouble against Iwakuma it could begin to weigh on Norris. Staying focused on doing his job and not worrying about things that are out of his control will be key for Bud.
Last season Norris enjoyed a hot streak that started around this time and lasted for about a month. On May 21st Bud was 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA and was looking like an All-Star candidate. But he would fall on hard times at that point, losing 12 straight decisions as his ERA rose nearly two runs per game. Norris didn’t win again until September 26th when he beat the Cardinals 2-0 at home. Bud made one more start after that and got another win to finish the season on a high note.
Momentum seemed to play a big role in 2012 for Norris. How much did he learn from that experience? That is a question that could be answered in the coming weeks — beginning tonight.
The Astros are now counting on Norris to be the ace of their staff. With that comes a certain amount of pressure. How Norris is able to deal with that pressure could ultimately be the deciding factor on his future with the team. If Norris rises to the occasion and shows that he can handle the pressure the Astros will have to consider signing him to a long term contract. If he falters — we can expect the trade rumors that have surrounded Norris to continue to gain steam.