HOUSTON -- The first thing Astros pitcher Bud Norris does when he arrives at the ballpark each day is find the blue T-shirt hanging in his locker with the word "Process" written across the front, and slip it on.
For Norris, the shirt is as much a part of his uniform and his routine as buttoning up his jersey and putting on his spikes. It's a symbol he's committed to the message laid out by manager Bo Porter in Spring Training and shows he's completely on board with the team's rebuilding process.
"I wear it every single day, knowing it's about the process and I understand the young guys are coming," Norris said. "I've bought into the process when I had an opportunity to talk to Bo before Spring Training here in Houston, and I just think it really shows the players it's about getting the job done and playing the game the right way."
With the non-waiver Trade Deadline a little more than a month away and Norris' name being rumored to be on the market, Norris, 28, maintains he's committed to the Astros for as long as the team wants him to be in Houston, all the while knowing he could be dealt.
And it doesn't take a deep thinker to realize the Astros would be willing to deal Norris, who makes $3 million this year and could double that next season in arbitration. The club isn't quite yet far enough along in its rebuilding process to pay that kind of money to player it could trade for a few prospects.
Plus, the Astros' improving Minor League system has some impressive young arms on the come, led by Jarred Cosart and Asher Wojciechowski in Triple-A, and Mike Foltynewicz in Double-A.
"My name's definitely coming up a lot and it's really out of my control," Norris said. "I haven't had an opportunity to sit down and discuss a long-term deal, and I understand where the organization is going, and they have some young guys coming up. It's really out of my hands.
"I want to go out there and keep pitching for the last month [prior to the Deadline] and see what happens. If the Trade Deadline is here and I'm still in an Astros uniform, I'll be happy with that. I understand something could happen, but at the end of the day, my focus right now is still in Houston, and that's where it's going to stay."
The right-hander is having perhaps the best season his young career, going 5-7 with a 3.60 ERA through his first 16 starts of the season. He's on pace to make more starts and throw more innings than any other season in his career, which could make him attractive to contending clubs.
"I've taken a bigger step in my career this year, as far as pitching into the seventh or eighth inning and hopefully getting that nine-inning complete game some day, but it goes to offseason conditioning and in-season conditioning, and knowing your body and your element," Norris said. "It's been a great year for me, but the team has made strides and played better, and I just have to go out there and do my job every fifth day. I hope I can set an example that way, too."
Early in his career, Norris had a locker next to two-time 20-game winner Roy Oswalt, who told him not to worry about numbers. Oswalt told him the goal should to pitch 200 innings, something Norris is in line to do this year for the first time in his career.
"That was the best leader I had," Norris said. "For a year and a half, I got to pick his brain and do the things he helped me with. He said it's not about your ERA, it's not about your wins and losses, it's about getting to 200 innings pitched. That means you're doing something for your team, and your numbers should be there."
Norris was drafted by the Astros in 2006, less than a year after they reached the World Series. When he made it to the Major Leagues in 2009, the club still had a hefty veteran presence that included Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Doug Brocail, Oswalt, Miguel Tejada, Geoff Blum, LaTroy Hawkins, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler and Kaz Matsui.
The Astros acquired veterans like Tejada, Hampton, Hawkins and Rodriguez and hoped to combine them with up-and-comers like Norris, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence and squeeze another year of contention out of an aging club. The results never came on the field, and soon the Astros were trading away veteran player for prospects and looking to the future.
Whether that future includes Norris remains to be seen, but for now, he's all in for the Astros.
"I owe a lot of gratitude and thanks to the Astros, and as far as that's concerned. I have played here for 3 1/2 years, and the only baseball I know is the Astros way," he said. "To play for this team and this city, and I've loved it for that long. In the near future, that could change. It's really out of my hands, and I have to understand both sides of the business, but as far as my mindset, I'm still here in Houston and trying to help this team win."