Downs' feel-good story adds Opening Day chapter

Downs' feel-good story adds Opening Day chapter

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers had just three players experiencing their first Opening Day in the big leagues on Monday. Technically, however, Drew Smyly was only left off last year's Opening Day roster because the Tigers didn't need a fifth starter at the outset. Al Alburquerque, meanwhile, had little reason to doubt he'd make it.

For Darin Downs, though, Monday's opener was special. As good as his story was last summer -- he came back from a life-threatening head injury a few years ago to become the second lefty in Detroit's bullpen -- making the Opening Day roster was arguably sweeter.

"It's Opening Day, and that's special," Downs said.

It's a spot he very much won. On a staff that seemed poised to go heavily toward right-handers other than Phil Coke, with Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal effective against lefties, the 28-year-old Downs showed his value with 14 innings of one-run ball and 16 strikeouts.

He didn't get caught up in the notion he had to outpitch anybody. He just tried to pitch as well as he could and let team officials judge him on that.

"I was just trying to keep it real simple this spring, pitchwise, just making adjustments and working on stuff," he said. "Obviously, I had to get outs. I couldn't go out there and just feel it out the whole month. I just tried to keep it simple, not worry about anything and take it as it comes."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.