Blue Jays mull Downs to rotation
After dominant season in 'pen, '09 could see lefty starting
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are keeping an open mind in mapping out their plans for the starting rotation next season. So much so, in fact, that the club isn't ruling out potentially moving Scott Downs out of his late-innings bullpen role.
"We could put Downs in the rotation," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "We have that option. We're talking about it, but, obviously, we have to sit down with him and see what he's comfortable with. We'll see. We'll see how everything plays out."
Downs has certainly looked comfortable as Toronto's primary setup man over the past two seasons, emerging as one of the top relievers in the game in the process. Looking ahead to next year, though, the Blue Jays have some question marks within their starting staff.
There is the unsettled situation with pitcher A.J. Burnett, who could opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season. There is also the uncertain status of Dustin McGowan -- possibly out until at least May after having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder at the end of July.
Behind ace Roy Halladay, those two variables could create an open competition for four spots in the rotation. Toronto boasts a bevy of young arms in the mix for jobs -- Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch, Casey Janssen, David Purcey, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero -- but Downs could provide a veteran arm to the staff.
"We're going to take a look at a lot of different people next year," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "Who knows what A.J. is going to do? So, I think we're starting to look and see who we can get to fill in his shoes there.
"Scott might be one of them. He's done that before, but he's been pretty good in the bullpen, too."
This year, the 32-year-old Downs has posted a 1.25 ERA with 21 holds in 60 appearances for the Blue Jays, who boast the best bullpen ERA (2.85) in baseball. Among big league relievers with more than 57 innings this season -- a class of 68 pitchers, entering Wednesday -- Downs' ERA ranked first.
Over 64 2/3 innings, the southpaw Downs has allowed just 10 runs (nine earned) on 45 hits, with 55 strikeouts, 21 walks and a .196 opponents' batting average. Since the end of April, Downs has limited hitters to a .165 average, allowing just four earned runs over 53 innings for a 0.68 ERA.
Downs is currently in the first season of a three-year, $10 million contract he signed with Toronto in January. The Jays rewarded him with that deal after Downs posted a 2.17 ERA in 81 appearances out of the bullpen in 2007. He's owed $3.75 million in 2009 and is scheduled to earn another $4 million in 2010.
Downs has some experience as a starter, but he hasn't filled that role since 2006, when he made just five spot starts out of Toronto's rotation. Over his seven-year career, which included stints early on with the Cubs and Expos, Downs has gone 12-14 with a 5.35 ERA in 50 starts, dating back to 2000.
It's been some time since Downs worked as a starter, but that won't stop the Blue Jays from at least considering him as a possible option for their rotation next season.
"We've got a lot of ways we could go," Ricciardi said. "I think when we come to Spring Training next year, we're going to go with the best group that gives us a chance to start off the best we can and build our rotation from there."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.