For all intents and purposes, Downs' season ended at Triple-A Toledo a week ago. Though he has been on the Tigers' 40-man roster all year, he wasn't called up when rosters expanded on Sept. 1, nor when the Mud Hens' season ended. The only lefty reliever the Tigers recalled was Jose Alvarez, who was a starter for the vast majority of the season.
Thus, Downs went into "offseason mode," as he put it.
A week later, however, the Tigers changed course and decided they could use another lefty ahead of a meeting with the Mariners on the upcoming homestand.
It's a rare move for any team this far into September, let alone the Tigers. Detroit has done it once or twice over the last couple years, but mainly in the situation of injury reinforcements. Craig Monroe was called up in mid-September in 2002 after Bobby Higginson was lost for the season. Clay Rapada rejoined Detroit's bullpen in 2009.
This wasn't that kind of move.
"They just thought it might be good to have another lefty," manager Jim Leyland said.
That said, the Tigers have had their struggles finding big outs against left-handed hitters from the lefties they have. Phil Coke gave up an insurance run on an RBI single from Alex Gordon last Saturday in Kansas City, ending a streak of three appearances retiring left-handed batters since his September return. Left-handed hitters are 9-for-27 against Drew Smyly since the All-Star break.
"We're trying to get Smyly in some meaningful situations, but we haven't had a lot of those lately," Leyland said. "He's pitching a lot, so it's kind of worked out well for us."
Downs spent most of the season's first half in Detroit before going on the 15-day disabled list with rotator cuff tendinitis. He spent two weeks on a rehab assignment before being optioned to Toledo on Aug. 4.
Downs put up a finishing stretch to warrant consideration as a September callup, allowing one earned run on seven hits over 13 1/3 innings since Aug. 1. He had a weird split in Toledo, proving far stingier against right-handed hitters (.121 average) than lefties (.238), but the at-bat totals were limited. He didn't allow a home run from either side.
"He did just OK," Leyland said of reports from Toledo.
That was likely one reason behind the original decision not to bring him back. The effort to get Coke going again down the stretch was likely another.
Downs went a week without throwing after his last appearance in Toledo until he played catch Monday night following the call. He had a more formal throwing session on Tuesday to get ready. He still expects some rust, but not for long.
"You don't throw for a week and you go out there and you're spinning stuff, your arm feels good, but it's not quite there," Downs said. "It's like timing when a hitter gets two, three, four days off."