He began as the club's feel-good story -- and still is. He's the 27-year-old who took a line drive off the head playing for the Rays' Double-A squad in 2009, which fractured his skull. As a result, he needed to learn how to speak again, never mind understanding how to approach big league hitters.
It's unquestionably a great story. But what makes it even better is that he's turned his tragedy into triumph at the highest level, becoming a legitimate bullpen arm for the Tigers during his first season.
He's not often used, pitching only three times since July 17, but when he is, he's effective. Downs ate up two innings Friday night, allowing one inherited runner on third base to score, but having an otherwise flawless outing.
In seven games, he's pitched 9 2/3 innings, giving up six hits, two earned runs -- both in two innings against the Angels -- and four walks, while striking out 13. Take away the Angels game and he's allowed no runs and three hits.
"He's a pretty good pitcher. I've been impressed with him," manager Jim Leyland said Saturday. "His stuff's good ... even in Spring Training, the couple times I saw him, [his stuff] looked better than I expected it to be."
Leyland only saw Downs a few times because a blister limited the lefty in the spring. Therefore, Downs wasn't able to audition as he would've liked for that last bullpen opening.
As he's had to do often, Downs took the tough path. He started in Triple-A Toledo, where he posted a 2.15 ERA in 25 games before eventually earning a promotion on July 3. Downs credited his success so far from carrying over the momentum he built in the Minors.
"I had a great year down in Triple-A," Downs said. "When I got up here, I'm just taking it day by day and outing by outing and just trying to throw the ball well every time out. Do the best I can and help the team anyway I can or they need. I feel like I've been doing well."
As far as his seldom usage goes, the lefty said his lack of appearances just means the starting rotation is doing an excellent job, pitching deep into games and giving the bullpen plenty of off-days.
"If it's been a couple days for me, I just go out to the mound and I throw 10 or 12 [pitches] and then wait a couple days," said Downs on staying sharp. "If I don't get in, I do it again ... The bullpen's been pretty fresh. It's been nice. I'm not overworked or anything. It's been fun."