Southpaw earns win in first game with Atlanta; Minors righty Rasmus to Angels
ATLANTA -- As the Braves spent the past couple of weeks evaluating ways to enhance the strength of their bullpen, they became even more interested in the potential value left-handed reliever Scott Downs could bring.
Less than 12 hours after acquiring Downs from the Angels in exchange for Minor League right-handed pitcher Cory Rasmus, the Braves gained a sense of his worth as he earned the win in Monday night's 9-8, 10-inning win over the Rockies.
"I'm in a situation to win," Downs said. "Any athlete's dream is to get somewhere where you can win and be wanted. I was wanted here. I've been greeted with open arms and I'm excited to start this journey with this group of guys."
Downs' flight from Dallas arrived in Atlanta early Monday evening and he made it to Turner Field just before the start of the series opener against the Rockies. As fate would have it, his debut with his new club came when he entered with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth.
After introducing himself to his new teammates as he took the mound, Downs escaped the ninth-inning jam by getting Todd Helton to line back to the mound. The 37-year-old reliever then stranded a runner at third in a scoreless 10th inning to earn the win in his Braves' debut.
"That's the fun part about this game," Downs said. "One day you're with a good group of guys and the next day you're in another place with another group of guys. I got to meet a couple of my teammates out on the mound during the ninth inning. I tried to keep it loose and say 'Hey, what's up? Let's go play some ball.'"
With the acquisition of Downs, the Braves addressed their primary need to add quality depth to their bullpen. To make room on the 25-man roster for him, the club designated Kameron Loe for assignment.
"We were excited [Sunday] night when we saw this having a chance," general manager Frank Wren said. "You almost pinch yourself a little bit, because it's still a couple days before the Deadline and you've got a chance to get a key piece, at least a key piece for us. Now we can look to see if we can perfect some other areas."
As the Braves move toward Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, they will continue their search for a backup infielder, one who can preferably hit from the left side. But they now have the comfort of knowing they have already satisfied their objective to enhance the depth of their bullpen with a proven reliever.
"Downs is one of the best left-handed relievers in the game," Wren said. "Over the past few years, he's been a guy you know can shut down lefties. But he also has that sinker that allows him to go through a right-handed portion of a lineup. He's a guy we feel real comfortable putting in that seventh or eighth inning."
Downs compiled a 1.84 ERA in 43 appearances for the Angels this season. The 37-year-old southpaw has limited left-handed hitters to a .196 batting average and .255 on-base percentage. Right-handed hitters have batted .286 with a .385 on-base percentage against him.
"He's not necessarily just a left-handed specialist," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He can go through some right-handers. We got a guy who has been durable."
Since becoming a fixture in Toronto's bullpen six years ago, Downs has established himself as one of the game's most reliable relievers. The 2.27 ERA he has compiled dating back to the 2007 season ranks as the sixth-best mark among the 156 Major League relievers who have compiled at least 200 innings during this span.
"He's been good since Toronto," Wren said. "When he was acquired three years ago by Anaheim, he was one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. He's a guy you trust. That's a big word for us. When you get late in the game in the bullpen, you want somebody out there you trust. He personifies that."
Downs joins an Atlanta bullpen that entered Monday with a Major League-best 2.62 ERA. His addition allows the Braves to minimize the workload for top setup men Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden over the regular season's final two months.
With Alex Wood currently in the starting rotation, Avilan stood as the only left-handed presence in the Atlanta bullpen, which has persevered since its prized left-handed setup men Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters both underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in May.
Avilan entered Monday having already compiled 42 innings in 48 appearances. The 24-year-old posted professional highs in both appearances (47) and innings (97) while spending last year with Double-A Mississippi and Atlanta.
"Our primary need for the last month or so has been a left-handed reliever to take some of the burden," Wren said. "Some of the guys have stepped up pretty well from the right side. But we had just the one [left-hander]. Avilan has done a tremendous job. But guys can wear thin during the last couple months of the season."
Downs is owed approximately $1.6 million over the remainder of this year, and he will become a free agent at the end of this season. With this in mind, the Braves did not have to give up as much to get Downs as they would have for their other top left-handed relief target, James Russell, who is in the midst of his first arbitration-eligible season with the Cubs.
Rasmus showed plenty of promise while compiling a 1.37 ERA in the 37 relief appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett this season. The 25-year-old right-hander's success this season has distanced him from the frustrations he encountered after the Braves took him in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. A shoulder injury sidelined him for all of 2007 and limited him to four appearances in 2008.