Bud Norris is adamant that he’s grown tremendously over the last few years, but one thing has never changed since he made his first big league start in 2009. The veteran righthander has always loved pitching at Busch Stadium.
After nine years and six organizations, Norris is eager to join the first organization he beat in the majors.
“I’m extremely excited,” Norris said in his first comments since he signed with the Cardinals over the weekend. “This is one of the best organizations in all of baseball. I have a pretty storied past in pitching against them and in that stadium.
“I’m just willing to do whatever it takes to help this team get back to the postseason and make a real fight at it. I know they got a lot of young promising talent there, and I just want to do my part to help this team and be a positive influence every day.”
In many ways Norris’ signing with the Cardinals will put him where it all started in the National League Central. He made his debut in the majors for the Astros in relief against the Cubs on July 29. Then in his next appearance he threw seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball in his first start to beat the Cardinals 2-0 at Busch Stadium.
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It remains to be seen how the Cardinals will use him this season, but he can be a candidate to close or even start this season.
Norris, who is 64-84 with a 4.49 ERA over nine seasons in the majors, was 2-6 with a 4.21 ERA and 19 saves in 62 innings over 60 games last year with the Los Angeles Angels.
He is 4-5 with a 4.45 ERA in 10 games at Busch Stadium III and 8-7 with a 3.44 ERA against the Cardinals in his career.
He and Luke Gregerson give the Cardinals two veterans who have closed in the past, but it’s unclear if he’ll be seen as a candidate to close.
“We haven’t talked too much about that,” he said of closing. “I’m sure some things will pan out as spring goes along, but I know they did mention that they’re going to try to lengthen me out the first part of camp to see what happens with the other young arms and stuff like that.
“But they know that my versatility will definitely transition back there if that’s what it needs to be. But like I told (John Mozeliak) I’m willing to do anything and my focus is baseball. And my focus is winning and that’s always been the focus of the St. Louis Cardinals and putting baseball first. I’m super excited to go out and play meaningful baseball every night.”
The Cardinals’ rotation appears set heading into spring training with Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas and Luke Weaver.
Norris, John Gant and Jack Flaherty are potential candidates for the fifth spot if one of the top five starters is injured and unable to open the season on the 25-man roster.
“I’ll do whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “I just know they told me I’ll compete for a five-spot possibly, see what the bullpen has to offer. (Mike) Matheny is going to be the one in charge of that.”
Norris spent the first four full seasons of his career in Houston, where the Astros pushed him into a leadership role early as they sold off most of the veteran stars during the start of the rebuild that led to the 2017 World Series title.
He earned the Astros’ first victory in the American League in 2013 during the opening day of his fifth season in the majors, but he was sent to the Orioles at that July 31 deadline.
He is adamant that he has grown since overcoming some hiccups he had adjusting to leadership responsibilities and coping with the frustration of being on a team that had been stripped down to tank.
“Yeah, 2013 was a very, very tough place on me, not only in my personal life but in my baseball life,” he said. “It’s a rough go all around. I was on the trade block the entirety of the season. A lot was put on my shoulders as trying to be a veteran player when I only had three years of service time.”
The Cardinals are banking that Norris has definitely grown. Mozeliak says that the Cardinals heard nothing but good reports on Norris from his recent teams.
Equally important, Norris, 33, is at peace. In October he and his girlfriend moved into the house he has been remodeling for a couple years.
He's scheduled to fly out of Austin on Tuesday morning to report to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., later in the day.
“Really in a great place in my life," he said. "That’s why I believe this could be one of the best seasons of my career for me.”
Jose de Jesus Ortiz
@OrtizKicks on Twitter