KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Darin Downs quietly became a encouraging story when he made it to the big leagues with the Tigers last summer, three years after a line drive fractured his skull and nearly took his life.
Now, he'll be spending Opening Day in the big leagues for the first time in his career. And with the Tigers utilizing a closer-by-committee approach that will likely feature Phil Coke in his fair share of save chances, Downs, like Coke a left-hander, has has a chance to become a vital cog in Detroit's bullpen.
"He deserves to make the team," manager Jim Leyland said Thursday.
It wasn't simply a lefty-righty matchup decision, Leyland insisted. Downs flat-out pitched his way into the conversation.
While Detroit's closer situation took most of the focus, Downs quietly turned heads with one solid appearance after another. By the time he struck out three of four Phillies batters Wednesday, he had put together 14 innings of one-run ball, allowing nine hits with three walks and 16 strikeouts.
It was the kind of performance the Tigers have been searching for out of a secondary lefty for the past several years. But with a changeup Downs worked on over the winter, he actually retired right-handers at a better rate.
"He's thrown the ball very well," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We liked him last year, what he did for us. It looks like he came in with more confidence, even, having been at the big league level. ...
"He's throwing strikes, good breaking ball, average to a tick-above fastball. It gives Jim a chance to have that other left-hander out there. We like a lot of things about him."
Thus, what initially looked like a bullpen with only one lefty going into Spring Training will have three with Coke, Downs and long reliever Drew Smyly.
Interest between Tigers, Tuiasosopo was mutual
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The story of Matt Tuiasosopo emailing teams in the offseason and finding interest from the Tigers has gotten a lot of play in the days since he went on a Spring Training tear, and reached a new level when he won the fourth outfield spot on Tuesday.
However, team officials insist they had interest long before that, and they tried to get him into a Tigers uniform last summer before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
"Last year, when we were looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder, he was one of the guys we tried to acquire," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Thursday morning.
Tuiasosopo was playing in the Mets' system at the time at Triple-A Buffalo, where Tigers pro scout Mike Russell spotted him. The Tigers eventually settled on an August trade with the Cubs for Jeff Baker, who was released less than a month later.
"We tried to get him and we couldn't acquire him," Dombrowski said. "So he was one of the guys at the top or our list for this type of role with our team. We continued to have Mike Russell's recommendations as we entered the wintertime, and it was really a coincidence that we were just starting that process, and all of a sudden I got an email from him at that point."
Dombrowski had assistant general manager Al Avila, who handles most Minor League deals, follow up.
"I'm really thankful that he sent the note," Dombrowski said, "but I will also say it's not like it came out of the blue."
Another right-handed bat the Tigers tried to acquire last summer was Kevin Russo, who was in the Yankees' system. They ended up signing him over the offseason, too, though they didn't get an email to spark the conversation.
Worth optioned to Triple-A as Tigers finalize roster
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Danny Worth shuttled between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo five different times last season. The fact that he'll be opening the season back with the Mud Hens shouldn't be a surprise, given the Tigers' roster situation.
That didn't make the move Thursday that finalized Detroit's Opening Day roster any easier.
"It was a good conversation, because he's such a respectful kid. It wasn't a fun conversation," manager Jim Leyland said Thursday in announcing the move to option him back.
Worth has posted pretty good springs the past couple years, but his early hitting stood out this time around. The 27-year-old had an uptick in playing time with Miguel Cabrera and Omar Infante off at the World Baseball Classic and used the at-bats to make an impression.
He was originally believed to be an option for the final bench spot against Don Kelly and Quintin Berry. Once Kelly won that spot on Wednesday, however, Worth stuck around, and his case became a question of what, if anything, Detroit would do with Ramon Santiago.
Santiago signed a two-year contract before last season, but an American League talent evaluator said Detroit was making him available in a potential trade. Santiago will make $2.1 million guaranteed this season, and the Tigers would've had to eat a bulk of the salary to facilitate a deal.
Much like last year's Winter Meetings, when Santiago's name first popped up in trade rumors, no deal happened. Thus, Worth is a Mud Hen again. He finished his spring batting .317 (13-for-41) with five doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs, six walks and seven strikeouts.
"He's played great," Leyland said. "He's hitting better than I've seen him. He's playing better than I've seen. He looks like a big leaguer, and he is a big leaguer, but that's not much consolation for him today."
The Tigers announced the move after the game. Because they were on the road, Worth ended up on the team bus back to Lakeland, Fla., where he'll report to Minor League camp on Friday or Saturday.
Last year's back-and-forth certainly suggests Worth will return at some point, but it could very well be the same shuttle situation. The Tigers can use his option as many times as they wish, but he'll be out of options next year.