DETROIT -- When Darin Downs was making his first outings this spring, he mentioned that he was working on a changeup that he could throw to right-handed hitters. He had become a left-handed specialist at times after his callup from Triple-A Toledo last summer, but he wanted to enhance his versatility.
"Over my career, I'm tougher on lefties, but I'm just trying to really bear down against righties, as well," Downs said in early March.
A month later, he has struck out five out of the eight batters he faced, including four of five right-handed batters. In the process, he has manager Jim Leyland looking at him as more than a short-outing reliever.
With a closer by committee and a bullpen by matchup, that makes a major difference.
"The days of the specialist, the one hitter, are still there, but not near as much," Leyland said. "If you look, when people talk about stuff like that, they just assume that somebody has three left-handed hitters in a row. That doesn't happen anymore."
The Twins were a very good example, mixing hitters so that they rarely had back-to-back hitters from the same side.
"Both guys [left- and right-handers] have to be able to get somebody out from the other side," Leyland continued.
Downs had that in mind when he worked this spring. If he continues to change speeds as effectively as he has, it'll pay off.
"Instead of throwing two-thirds of an inning, I can cover a full inning and it'll save guys down the line," Downs said.
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.