Back injury to land Norris on DL

Left-hander has non-displaced fractures in three spots

Back injury to land Norris on DL

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Daniel Norris, once the frontrunner in the Tigers' fifth-starter competition, will open the season on the disabled list after being diagnosed with three non-displaced fractures in his spinous process, a series of bony protrusions that extend from the spine.

It doesn't mean he has fractured vertebrae, though it means he has more than the back tightness that was initially hoped.

"It sounds a whole lot worse than what it is," Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said.

The new diagnosis came from a Thursday morning visit to a back specialist after lower-back issues scratched Norris from one start and forced him out of another over the past week.

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Norris initially suffered the injury in the weight room, manager Brad Ausmus said earlier this week. While the series of fractures makes for an unusual injury, according to experts, it shouldn't require surgery to repair.

"Non-displaced fractures almost universally heal without the need for surgery," said Dr. Andrew Hecht, a specialist of spine surgery at The Mount Sinai Hospital and director of the spine center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Spinous process fractures typically heal in four to eight weeks, Hecht said. But as long as any discomfort is tolerable, he added, an athlete in good shape can perform while the fractures heal.

"Fractures heal," Ausmus said. "If you break a bone and it doesn't have to be reset, it would heal. And it's non-displaced, so it obviously doesn't have to be reset. There have been NFL players, baseball players that have had this and not missed any time."

Norris will not pick up a ball for the next five days while he receives medication to reduce the swelling in his back. Once Norris feels better, the team said, he's free to resume pitching.

Norris will miss enough time, though, that he has no chance to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Thus, what looked to be Norris' job to lose at the back end of Detroit's rotation will come down to Shane Greene, Matt Boyd or Buck Farmer. Boyd gave up three earned runs on seven hits over 3 1/3 innings in Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays. Greene is set to pitch Friday against the Braves in Lakeland, Fla.

Norris, who won a job in Toronto's rotation last year with a dominant Spring Training, has given up seven runs on 12 hits over 6 1/3 innings this year. More importantly, he hasn't pitched more than two innings in a game. The left-hander underwent initial tests Tuesday after leaving that day's game in the first inning, having thrown 25 pitches against the Jays. He was pitching Tuesday because he was scratched from his previously scheduled start against the Marlins last Saturday.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.