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Bernie Bits on Bud Norris, Cuonzo Martin, Jordan Clarkson and Vlad Tarasenko

Bernie Bits…

The Cubs sign Yu Darvish and the Cardinals go all-in on a one-year deal with Bud Norris.

Darvish, Norris … kind of a tossup if you ask me.

Kidding aside, you remember Bud, right? He was the young RH pitcher for the Houston Astros who absolutely owned the Cardinals during his early days in the bigs. When Bud glared in at the Cardinals from the mound at Minute Maid Park, or from the hill at Busch Stadium … good grief he was Bob Gibson vs. Detroit, Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.

Norris, 24 at the time, was promoted by Houston in 2009. Over his first four starts against St. Louis, Norris worked 26 innings … and allowed one earned run for a microscopic 0.35 ERA. And he won all four starts. The Cardinals handled Norris for a time after that, but Norris came right back at them in 2011 with a 3-1 record and 2.52 ERA in four starts.

Albert Pujols hit .192 against Bud Norris.

Yadier Molina batted .200 against the Bud Man.

Skip Schumaker couldn’t hit him (.136), Rick Ankiel couldn’t hit him (.182), Aaron Miles went hitless, Colby Rasmus batted .182 …  Norris was one of the weirdest and most unlikely villains to take on Tony La Russa’s Cardinals back in the day.

And now Norris is a Cardinal. He’s 34. He’s made a solid conversion to the bullpen, striking out 27.7 percent of batters faced for the Angels last season — with a 45 percent ground-ball rate, 4.21 ERA and 3.90 FIP. But the stats are misleading to an extent; they include three games started. Moreover, Norris’ numbers were distorted by knee inflammation that put him on the DL in two separate instances after the middle of June.

Here’s what I’m looking at: from the the beginning of the season until the knee flared up and become a hindrance, Norris was outstanding in his first 34 relief appearances for the 2017 Angels. During that time he worked 33.1 innings, struck out 31 percent of batters faced, gave up only three homers, pitched to a 2.43 ERA, and notched 11 saves in 13 opportunities.

That positive stretch of work — before the knee miseries — probably caught the Cardinals’ attention. Norris could help in the STL bullpen, which needs depth.

One more thing on Norris:  he’s  outspoken … and not in a good way.

Norris embarrassed himself in a “Baseball’s Culture Clash” story that appeared in USA Today late in the 2015 season. Norris wasn’t reticent about lecturing international players on how they should conduct themselves while playing “America’s game.”

“I think it’s a culture shock,’’ Norris said. “This is America’s game. This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.

“I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.’’

Good grief.

Reading Time 5 Minutes:

Our friend Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports had this to say about Mizzou basketball coach Cuonzo Martin:

“After three straight 20-loss seasons, hopes for a quick turnaround at Mizzou were pinned on superstar recruit Michael Porter Jr. Then Porter played two minutes in the season opener, underwent back surgery and may never play college basketball again (the NBA draft beckons). In addition to lacking the most heralded recruit in program history, Martin is making it work without any semblance of a reliable point guard in the lineup. Yet Martin has authored a spectacular turnaround season, highlighted by wins over Alabama on the road and Kentucky at home last week. Mizzou is (17-8) overall, (7-5)  in the SEC and in most bracket projections at the moment. The Tigers haven’t played in the Big Dance since 2013.”

I’ll add a quickie note to Forde’s praise: during his three seasons as MU’s coach, Kim Anderson won only eight regular-season SEC games, going 8-46 in conference play. Martin already has seven SEC wins in 12 conference games. It took Anderson 46 games before he won his 7th conference game; Martin has won seven in only 12 SEC games. …

Not sure what to make of the Blues… through Sunday, against teams that would qualify for the postseason if the playoffs started now, the Blues have a record of 12-12-3 … and if we add in games against four other teams that are only one point out of a playoff spot, the Blues are 15-16-3 …

Mizzou basketball alum Jordan Clarkson sure appeared to be having a great time playing as a teammate with LeBron James for the first time in his debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers after last week’s trade from the LA Lakers. In 23 minutes 11 seconds, Clarkson scored 17 points, had 3 rebounds and 2 steals, and made 7 of 11 shots from the floor … and that included going 3 for 4 shooting threes. The Cavaliers rolled to a 23-point win …

For all of the guff directed at Blues’ winger Vladimir Tarasenko — some of it warranted — the Blues have outscored opponents by 22 goals at even strength when he’s on the ice. And when a goal is scored by either team when  Tarasenko is out there at even strength, the Blues have scored nearly 62 percent of those goals … and they have come up with 54 percent of the scoring chances.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More – Let’s Face It: The Cubs and Cardinals Are Competing On Different Levels