"Everyone can do the rehab," Tim Norton said. "There are plenty of guys that can do the rehab and have worked hard at it, but sometimes it's just time and you've just got to wait, wait, and wait for it to heal. The time is torture."
The Trenton Thunder pitcher underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2007 as well as another surgery in 2009, and was shut down during his 2010 campaign due to a lat injury that didn't require surgery. Norton feels that first surgery on the shoulder was more severe than the second, but he is finally healthy again and has regained his velocity, and he is making his presence known playing for the Trenton Thunder.
Although it is nearly impossible to predict an injury, Norton looks back at faulty mechanics as a partial cause to his shoulder injuries and would've made some changes if he could turn back the clock.
"In high school I would've cleaned up my mechanics a little bit," he admitted. "In college I probably would've cleaned up my mechanics a little bit too.
"I was throwing across my body for a long time. But sometimes you can do everything right and it just doesn't matter. You can have perfect mechanics and you can still go down, but I'd say my mechanics were a little off for years."
He made changes to his pitching mechanics during his first year in the Yankees organization while playing in Staten Island, but the damage was done.
"I had to change from throwing across my body because it would've hurt too much if I didn't change it," he added.
With the injuries now behind him he can focus solely on just pitching again. His mechanics are cleaned up, his arm strength is back, and he is locating his pitches.
He is putting his abilities and talents on display each outing and has been nothing short of extraordinary. His success passes every test, and Trenton's manager Tony Franklin believes that he passes perhaps the most important test, the eye test.
"My eyes see a better fastball than when he was injured last year," said Franklin. "We had to sit him down. My eyes see a better fastball, a better pace of pitch, and basically beating some guys along with his slider; his slider is really sharp."
Norton's arm has found its fountain of youth this season, throwing with the same type of velocity he did when he was drafted in 2006.
"I'd say consistently this year it's [velocity] better than it's ever been," he said.
Trenton's pitching coach, Tommy Phelps values the consistency of Norton's velocity this season.
"He's been good, he gets prepared every day to pitch," Phelps said. "He's had some games where it's [his velocity] been at the top and some games where it's been just a tick or two lower, but for the most part it's been good."
He is sticking with three pitches; the power fastball, slider, and a changeup. The mixing of speeds as well as his constant improvement of locating pitches is Norton's recipe for success. The fastball consistently hits the mid-90s and is complimented extremely well by the other two pitches that are also very effective.
"Guys have to get ready for that fastball," Phelps added. "They have to gear up for that heater and that gets some bad swings on that slider."
Despite pitching in relief, he leads the team in strikeouts this season, posting nearly a six to one strikeout to walk ratio and an even more impressive 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He uses his power fastball as often as he does his slider when he has hitters on the ropes with two strikes.
"Some days I've got my fastball going, and some days I've got my slider going," Norton said. "So it just depends on what I'm feeling that day, I'd say it's probably half and half, maybe a little bit more of the fastball."
His hard work does not go unnoticed around the clubhouse, and the man who calls the pitches for him behind the plate, Austin Romine, has nothing but praise for the hard throwing right-hander.
"He hits his spots," Romine said. "He throws his fastball in and out and when you work in and out with your fastball, and command both sides of the plate, hitters aren't allowed to do what they want to do."
"He's got a power fastball and his slider has really come along," Phelps added. "He's able to command, he elevates at times, and he's able to move he fastball around and uses his slider off of that. He comes out and throws good everyday, goes about his work and he's been strong in his outings."
His stature on the mound is impeccable, standing in at an intimidating 6-foot-5.
"He commands the mound when he's out there," Romine added. "He's got a good slider and he's the type of guy who we go to in the pen when we need a couple of zeroes."
Franklin refers to Norton as an "instant-out" as he has been a staple in the Trenton bullpen throughout the season.
"If you can come in and get an out with a ‘K', that spells relief," said Franklin. "He's throwing the ball really well right now."
Coming back from so many injuries and those two major shoulder surgeries has only made Norton appreciate each opportunity he gets, and the best part about being healthy is just that – being healthy.
"It was tough going out there when I wasn't feeling good," Norton said. "It makes it a lot easier knowing you've just got to go out there and execute a pitch instead of worrying about my arm hurting."
With his eyes on the prize, Norton, now a minor league elder statesman, looks to stay healthy and finally get his shot at playing in the big leagues. And at the rate he is performing these days, that chance should come sooner rather than later.
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Patience Paying Off for Norton
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