Bud Norris has spent the past 3.5 years as a member of the Houston Astros starting rotation, displaying the same weakness -- an inability to get through a lineup effectively for a third time (as seen below, via baseball-reference).
He's also shown the same strength over the past few years, posting an above-average strikeout rate and generating whiffs inside the strike zone. The good and the bad were on display Sunday against the Texas Rangers.
Norris threw 5⅔ innings of work, allowing two runs on five hits while walking three and striking out five. Norris earned all five strikeouts on swings and misses. In first two times through the lineup, Rangers batters went 2-for-16 while walking two times and striking out four times.
Then the sixth inning came and Norris was asked to face the Rangers lineup for a third time, starting with Ian Kinsler, who led the inning off with a five-pitch walk. Norris' fastball that touched 94 earlier in the game is now topping out at 90 (there's no way to tell if Norris completely lost faith in his fastball, but it appeared so, as he only used it once in the next ten pitches against opposing batters), but he was able to get Elvis Andrus to whiff on a slider for strike three.
Lance Berkman singled on a line drive to right off of a changeup, sending Kinsler to third base. With two on and one out, Texas' best hitter is at the plate in Adrian Beltre, who wastes no time by hammering at a first-pitch slider. Unfortunately for Beltre, Norris extended his glove (left arm) up and snared the liner for a second out.
Maybe it isn't all unravelling for Norris, but it would. The next two batters for Texas singled and suddenly the Rangers are only down two, forcing Astros manager Bo Porter to make a pitching change.
As aforementioned above, Norris may have lost faith in his fastball during the troubling sixth inning, rightfully so. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, here's how his fastball velocity declined through the outing as the pitch count increased. It is just the first start of the season, so conditioning may be an issue for the 6'0'', 220 pound righty.
So, what is Norris? He's kind of a tweener. A two-pitch starting pitcher that throws a fastball/slider and the lack of a third pitch (changeup) doesn't help him when it comes to getting batters out for a third time, especially if he's topping out at 90 miles per hour on his heater. But his ability to work through a lineup twice makes him overqualified for a reliever role, at least with the way relievers are used now.
Oh, and he's Houston's No. 1 starter as of right now.
Originally appeared on Rontrarian Report.