Downs hoping to be back this weekend
Closer tests sprained toe on mound for first time Tuesday
TORONTO -- Scott Downs has had to skip a staple of his pregame routine lately. After batting practice, the superstitous Blue Jays closer usually races pitcher Brian Tallet from the outfield to the clubhouse, running at a full sprint inside Rogers Centre.
For the past two weeks, a pesky big toe injury has sidelined Downs. Running will have to wait for another day or two.
Prior to Tuesday's game against the Rays, Downs pitched off the mound in a bullpen session that lasted roughly seven minutes. It was the first time the left-hander tested the sprained toe on his left foot on a mound. Downs admitted to still feeling some minor pain, but the pitcher is eager to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as possible.
"It's progress," Downs said. "It wouldn't be the first time I pitched through discomfort. It's not discomfort enough to where it's affecting my mechanics and that's the main thing. As long as I can get through that, it will gradually heal up the more I get out there and get on it."
Downs injured his left foot while running out of the batter's box in the 10th inning of a game in Philadelphia on June 16. The closer is eligible to be activated from the DL in time for the Blue Jays' upcoming three-game series against the Yankees, beginning Friday. Downs would love nothing more to pitch in New York, but it's not a given that he will be ready.
"We're still optimistic that it could be some time during that series," said Downs, referring to the coming set against the Yankees. "If not, a couple extra days isn't going to hurt.
Downs has yet to try running on his sore foot. The lefty said that step will likely come before Friday, when he is scheduled to throw in the bullpen at the new Yankee Stadium. If Downs is not activated during the series against the Yankees, he at least hopes to be able to come back some time during Toronto's upcoming 10-game road trip before the All-Star break.
"That's what I'm hoping," Downs said. "In my mind, yes, depending on how my body feels and what [the trainers] have to say. It's going to depend on a couple different scenarios."
As much as the Blue Jays want to have Downs return quickly, manager Cito Gaston said the fact that the All-Star break is looming could play a role in the decision. Should the pitcher need more time to test his foot with running drills or more mound sessions, Gaston said the club might lean toward holding the closer back until after the July 13-16 break.
"It's all going to come into play," Gaston said. "We're going to be smart about it. If he's going to pitch the last three days [of the road trip], why not give him the rest of the time off? But if it comes down to that he says he feels good and he can go, then we'll probably let him go. It doesn't make a lot of sense to put him out there if it doesn't really mean anything right now -- just let him go until after the All-Star break."
A Minor League rehab stint probably won't be necessary for Downs unless the injury persists for another two or three weeks, according to the pitcher.
Downs took over for former closer B.J. Ryan in April and has been one of Toronto's top relievers once again this season. In 26 games, Downs has a 1.98 ERA with eight saves and 28 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. The veteran southpaw has a 1.96 ERA over the last three seasons with the Jays.
While Downs has been out, Jason Frasor has served as the temporary closer. Gaston indicated that Downs would likely step right back into the closer's role upon his return.
"It depends on what I need, to be honest with you," Gaston said. "We might just throw him back in the fire and see what happens. If not, if I get a chance to pitch him an inning before all that happens, that'd be good, too."
Downs said the most important thing has been that his current injury has not hurt his delivery. At the end of last season, the lefty sprained his right ankle and he tried to pitch through the discomfort, which took a toll on his mechanics. That hasn't been the case this time around, but Downs said last year's injury provided a valuable learning experience.
"That's why we're being cautious," Downs said. "Last year, I kind of pitched through it and it afffected me mechanically. I was babying it. I was dropping my arm a little bit, which was in turn making me lose location, which is key. So far, so good. I haven't really babied it.
"I haven't really felt it to where it's bothering me location-wise. Then again, I haven't had a hitter yet. There's no adrenaline there yet. Let's just say we're progressing ahead of schedule and it's feeling OK."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.