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‘New’ Norris shutting hitters down for Astros

Bud Norris: Lowest ERA among MLB starters in May. (Associated Press)
Bud Norris: Lowest ERA among MLB starters in May. (Associated Press)

HOUSTON – After a 6-11 season in 2011, Bud Norris approached Astros manager Brad Mills and said he wanted to be a different pitcher.

Now he’s proving he was serious about a turnaround. He’s won each of his four starts in May and his 0.35 ERA this month is a major league best for a starter.

“I knew that I needed to take that next step in my career,” the 27-year-old said. “Going into my third full season I really wanted to make some more strides. I just told him that I was going to go out there and be accountable and be one of those guys that’s going to pitch six, seven, eight innings every time.”

Houston pitching coach Doug Brocail always saw Norris as a talented pitcher, but said that in the past Norris was lacking a key ingredient for success.

“Bud’s a guy that I think early in his career up in the major leagues didn’t know how to win,” Brocail said. “And that’s just not learned overnight. Now we’re getting to see him get deeper in games and get out of big jams.”

That has pushed him to a 5-1 record in nine starts and helped the Astros move out of the National League Central basement. They were in third place in the division with a 21-23 record entering Thursday’s games.

Norris went 9-10 with a 4.92 ERA in 27 starts in 2010, his first full season in the majors. He lowered his ERA to 3.77 in 31 starts a year ago, but that improvement didn’t lead to more victories. A reason for that, according to Brocail, was that Norris didn’t know how to pitch his way out of trouble or was pulled when things got dicey.

This season, Brocail and Mills have kept him in games when he’s pitched his way into jams, because they know he’ll never improve if they don’t allow him to pitch out of those situations.

Norris isn’t able to put his finger on any one thing that has helped his success this season.

“It’s a collection of things,” he said. “I’m getting more comfortable out there each time. I’m getting a little older and a little wiser. I’m figuring things out slowly, but surely. It’s just a trust and confidence thing and knowing that the work you are putting in is going to pay off.”