Norton hoping to get back on track with Rockies
TUCSON, Ariz. ” Greg Norton has been one of baseball’s best late-inning pinch hitters, someone with a knack for getting big hits at big moments.
But in the fickle world of pinch hitting, one of the toughest jobs in baseball, even the best can struggle. Norton found that out last year in Detroit, where injuries, a new role and some time in the minors led to the worst of his 12 years in professional baseball.
Back in Colorado as a non-roster invitee to spring training, Norton is hoping to climb back into the niche he had been so successful in his first time around with the Rockies.
“It was something that I didn’t handle well and that’s my fault,” Norton said of last season. “No matter where you’re playing, you’ve got to be ready to play and do what you can to go out there and perform, and I don’t think I handled that well. It’s a goal of mine this spring training that if something’s bothering me, you’ve got to battle through it and play as hard as you can.”
Norton certainly has had previous success in the role.
After starting his career with the Chicago White Sox, Norton became one of the premiere pinch hitters in baseball in three seasons with the Rockies. Since 2001, his first season in Colorado, Norton has led the majors with 41 pinch-hit RBIs and is second in hits (58) and homers (nine).
A switch-hitter, Norton has a career .243 average as a pinch hitter, which isn’t bad considering he sits on the bench for seven or eight innings before being asked to be ready for what is usually one of the biggest at-bats in the game.
“If there’s a situation where it’s a different guy than Norton, we might go up there and look for a few pitches and a walk could come into play. With Norton, we want a swing of the bat more often than not from him,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s found that ability to hit good pitchers late in games.”
Norton is hoping to regain that touch after a miserable year in Detroit.
He started off the season by going 1-for-27 his first 13 games and it didn’t get much better from there.
Norton had trouble with pinch hitting in the American League, where sometimes he’d go a week without getting into a game, and the Tigers primarily used him as a right-handed hitter, which is his weaker side.
Norton also was bothered by knee and wrist injuries, and spent the final two months at Triple-A Toledo. He wound up hitting .174 with the Tigers and was only marginally better with the Mud Hens at .207, leaving him with few options this offseason.
“I didn’t have teams knocking down my door this offseason,” Norton said. “Hitting a buck-70 in the big leagues and .207 in Triple-A doesn’t really warrant interest. I kind of wanted to get back to the National League, where I feel comfortable in that role. I’m just trying to get my foot back in the door.”
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