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During warmups he knew. His stuff wasn’t quite there.

Daniel Norris tried to battle. Tried to find the zone. But the pitching prospect got knocked around pretty good by the Pawtucket Red Sox Tuesday night.

The 9-3 loss was a setback for the 21-year-old lefty making his fourth start at the Triple-A level. And it was devastating for the Buffalo Bisons playoff chances.

The sellout crowd of 18,025 at Coca-Cola Field saw the Bisons end up with a split against Pawtucket. That drops the Herd two games back of the PawSox in the International League wild card race. The Bisons are still in the hunt, but with their last seven games on the road – including four against Rochester (also in the wild card hunt) and Syracuse (currently leading the IL North) – it’s a daunting task.

The Bisons lost one game on the schedule – a rainout May 15 against Gwinnett. So the final standings could come down a half game.

But there’s still some baseball to go before that comes into play.

For Norris, it was a disappointing performance after a sterling start to his Triple-A career, which saw him win all three starts, giving up one run with 32 strikeouts in 16∏ innings of work.

Tuesday he was not nearly as crisp. He fell behind batters. His velocity was down. His fastball was missing over the plate.

In his final line, Norris gave up six runs on eight hits. He struck out three and walked three. He threw 91 pitches but only 52 for strikes.

“I could tell when I was warming up I didn’t really have my stuff, so I knew I was going to have to try and attack the guys,” Norris said. “Sometimes when you lose feel of it, things start getting too fast on you. … I was always told you’re going to have your stuff one out of four times. This is one of the times that you don’t have it.”

“It was the first time I saw him struggle to keep the ball down in the zone,” catcher Mike Nickeas said. “He made some good pitches those guys hit as well. … I noticed in warmups he was having a little more trouble than he normally does getting going.”

The Bisons spotted Norris a 3-0 lead as the pitching duel between prospects never quite materialized. At least early on.

The speed of Dalton Pompey and Anthony Gose, after they got on base with back-to-back singles, scored the first two runs. A single from Brett Wallace tacked on another run.

But Norris gave the lead right back. After a 1-2-3 first inning he surrendered three straight doubles (two ground rules that bounced over the outfield wall) and just like that the game was tied.

He battled through the next two innings but in the fifth gave up back-to-back singles and then a three-run blast from Bryce Brentz broke the tie and gave Pawtucket a 6-3 lead.

“That’s not the way we mapped it out, was it?” manager Gary Allenson said. “Norris has done a great job. … It was more location than anything. I think one or two times it was pitch selection. But you know, hey, live and learn. He’s probably been used to just firing it up there and getting guys to swing at it.”

The Bisons offense ran up against the top pitching prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization. PawSox starter Henry Owens was rattled for three runs and four hits in the first inning, but only gave up four hits after that, working 6∑ innings. He struck out eight and walked four.

“After the first inning he settled down,” Nickeas said. “He had a really good changeup, started mixing in his curveball a lot. I thought he did a really nice job keeping us off balance.”

The Bisons travel to Moosic, Pa., for a doubleheader today against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (5:35, Radio 1520). Raul Valdes (4-5, 3.89) gets the start in the first game while Scott Copeland returns to the Herd from Double-A to start the nightcap. Copeland has thrown 14 shutout innings in his first two Triple-A starts.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com