Norris carving his niche despite late start

Norris carving his niche despite late start

BOSTON -- When Derek Norris signed with the Rays as a free agent on March 26th, there wasn't much time to get ramped up before the start of the season.

Given less than a week of Spring Training to try and find his way in a new organization, the catcher credits the club itself with helping the process along.

"I only had four days in camp with these guys," he said. "Ever since I stepped foot in here, they've treated me first-class. Anything that I've needed, whatever I need to prepare, or whatever it is, they've gone out of their way to make sure that I'm comfortable."

Having played in other organizations, Norris was aware there would be different customs he would have to learn.

With the comfort the team provided early, he was able to focus on his pitchers individually, learning their habits and the terminology they've grown accustomed to.

"It definitely took, for me, a couple of starts with some of these guys, to get to know their tendencies and what they like to do," Norris said. "Here in the last few weeks, it's been nothing but on the same page, for the most part."

"Having Derek Norris [in Spring Training] for the last week or so was a little tough, but we've all been on the same page and I think we're clicking very well," starter Matt Andriese said.

Norris, who has caught 29 games this season, now carries a high level of trust with his pitchers, which allows him to present suggestions before, during and after a game, including recently to Chris Archer, with whom Norris has been able to put thoughts into form during a game, to great success.

Archer hurls eight scoreless

"Me and Arch have shared some things that I feel like could make him even better than what he is," Norris said. "We've tried it the last couple of starts and it's showed. He's been throwing inside a little bit more. It's the level of respect that guys have given him with the slider, I think that pitching inside and up in the zone really accents his slider more, and little things like that."

It's no coincidence Archer has posted a 1.69 ERA and struck out 27 over 21 1/3 innings in his last three starts.

It's also no coincidence the Rays' pitching staff had the fourth-best ERA (3.62) in the American League entering Saturday, or that Tampa Bay starters boasted a Majors-leading 3.22 ERA during that time.

"As far as game-calling and managing the staff, I don't think you could have asked for a better situation," manager Kevin Cash said. "He's been outstanding. He learned on the fly really quick. Everything that I've heard from the pitchers, they enjoy the thought process that he puts into the game-calling. It seems like he knows what the pitcher's trying to accomplish, he kind of sprinkles in his own ideas here and there. The guys really seem to enjoy throwing to him."

Craig Forde is a contributor to MLB.com based in Boston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.