Wednesday Dish: Norris Hones In

The Nationals dispatched 20-year-old catcher Derek Norris to low Class A Hagerstown with the hope he’ll improve his defense to the point it rivals his considerable offensive potential. So far, the returns on both fronts have been positive.

The Nationals drafted Norris in the fourth round of the 2007 draft out of a Kansas high school, and the righthanded hitter has become the organization’s best catching prospect in years, thanks largely to his power and mature approach at the plate.

"He’s got a pretty good plan when he goes to the plate," Hagerstown manager Matthew LeCroy said. "He’s got pretty good plate coverage. He can hit the ball out to right and center field. He’s got a pretty good eye. He’s patient and has good bat speed."

Playing against mostly older competition, Norris led the short-season New York-Penn League in walks (63) and on-base percentage last year while hitting .278/.444/.463 in 227 at-bats with Vermont. He also led the Lake Monsters in home runs with 10.

Through six games with Hagerstown, Norris is off to a .292/.393/.542 (7-for-24) start. He had his best showing of the young season last night, going 3-for-4 with a home run in an 11-5 win over Delmarva. His home run was line drive to right-center field off Shorebirds righthander Raul Rivero to lead off the sixth inning.

"His earlier at-bats, he had two strikes," LeCroy said. "He just can battle. He can foul pitches off and just waits until he gets his pitch. He’s actually made some good adjustments at the plate. He got a base hit up the middle and a base hit between third and short.

"He’s a mature hitter for his age."

Norris’ defense hasn’t been too shabby either. He didn’t start playing catcher until his senior year of high school, and his inexperience showed last year as he committed 16 passed balls. However, he hasn’t allowed one this year through five starts behind the plate, and LeCroy has been impressed with the 6-foot, 210-pounder’s athleticism and arm strength.

"He’s got a good arm. He’s an athletic guy," said LeCroy, a former big league catcher. "Even though he’s big, he can run, so he’s pretty agile back there. We’re just trying to hone in on his game calling and keeping his energy going. It’s going to come with playing and observing."

McGeary Goes Tonight

Norris’ batterymate tonight will be lefthander Jack McGeary, who impressed in his full-season debut last week against Lake County. The 20-year-old tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings and fanned seven while walking only one and giving up three hits. LeCroy said McGeary’s fastball ranged from 88-91 mph and was impressed with his maturity.

"What I like about him is he seems pretty poised for being so young," LeCroy said. "He has an idea of what he wants to do on every pitch. He throws his fastball in and away. His changeup is  probably, I think, his second best pitch. He’s got good arm speed on all his offspeed pitches. His curveball is pretty good, too. He has a chance to have two or three plus pitches."

Hanson Outdueled

Gwinett (Braves) righthander Tommy Hanson doesn’t figure to lose many games for however long he stays in Triple-A. One or two runs is probably all an opponent can count on getting, but that was enough last night for Durham (Rays), which bested Hanson and the Braves 1-0. The big Braves hurler tossed  5 2/3 innings against the Bulls and allowed only one run on three hits while fanning seven, but it wasn’t enough as the Durham trio of Jason Cromer, Chad Orvella and Winston Abreu tossed a four-hit shutout. The Bulls improved to 5-0 on their season-opening eight-game homestand.

"(Hanson) had real good stuffan above average fastball and curveball," Bulls shortstop Reid Brignac told the Durham Herald-Sun. "The Braves always have good starting pitching. But our guys have been excellent. My hat’s off to our whole pitching staff for the way they’ve been throwing the ball."

Brignac’s RBI double off Hanson in the third inning produced the only run of the night and was the only extra-base hit of the night. The Durham staff tossed it’s second straight shutout and has allowed only six runs in five games.

Reddick, Tazawa Star In Portland

Double-A Portland (Red Sox) outfielder Josh Reddick homered for the fourth consecutive game in last night’s 4-3 win over New Britain (Twins). The Red Sox have stressed the need for Reddick to improve his pitch selection and ease his effort level, but the 22-year-old was going back to his original swing this year, and the results have been spectacular so far.

"I just tried to have a good at-bat and see some pitches, try to be a typical leadoff hitter for once," Reddick told the Portland Press Herald about the home run.

Reddick struggled after reaching Double-A last year, hitting only .214/.290/.436 after a mid-season promotion from high Class A, but he’s off to a .381/.435/1.048 start through five games this year.

Meanwhile, Junichi Tazawa held the Rock Cats to one run on four hits over six innings. He struck out three. Through his first two starts in the U.S., Tazawa has allowed only two runs on eight hits in 11 innings.

"He’s got good stuff and keeps you off balance," New Britain third baseman Danny Valencia told the Portland Press Herald. "His fastball is a little above average and he has a really good curveball. He mixes it up well."