Notes: Downs a valuable piece of 'pen
Left-hander has been one of the best relievers in the Majors
TORONTO -- It's been a simple case of cause and effect. The Blue Jays have played a considerable amount of close ballgames, forcing reliever Scott Downs to frequently make the late-inning jog from the bullpen to the mound.
Downs keeps impressing, so the Jays keep turning to the reliable left-hander. Through 109 games, the Jays have competed in 57 contests that have been separated by a count of two runs or fewer. It seems hardly a coincidence then that Downs had made 56 appearances.
"The thing that's impressed me is that he's been so durable," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "We're trying to keep an eye on him, but we've played in so many tight games that he's been called on a lot.
"The bottom line is we're trying to win games. You don't always get leads, so when you get them -- even if it's four or five days in a row -- if you need to go to your top guys, then you need to go to your top guys."
An early-season injury to All-Star closer B.J. Ryan made the 31-year-old Downs the most seasoned pitcher in the Jays' youthful bullpen. Downs has turned into a valuable left-handed setup man for fill-in closer Jeremy Accardo, and the southpaw has emerged as one of the top relievers in the American League.
In his 56 outings -- tied for the third-highest total in baseball -- Downs has posted a 3.20 ground-ball ratio and a 2.13 ERA, which rank fourth and 15th, respectively, in the Majors among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched. The left-hander leads Toronto's bullpen with 46 strikeouts, 9.78 strikeouts per nine innings and a .204 opponents' batting average.
"He's been one of the best relievers in the game," Gibbons said. "He's brought some stability, because he probably has the most time down there [in our bullpen]. They've all complemented each other well, and he's really given us a big boost."
Since June 1, Downs has only relinquished one earned run over 29 appearances -- good enough for a 0.40 ERA over that span. In fact, the left-hander has only allowed runs in five of his 56 games this season, using a sinking fastball, a changeup and a curveball.
"He can throw anything at any time," Gibbons said. "And he'll take the ball. We just have to make sure that when he needs a day, we give it to him, because he won't ask for it."
Glaus sits: The first 10,000 fans to arrive at Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon were rewarded with a Troy Glaus figurine, but newly acquired infielder Hector Luna was in the Jays' starting lineup at third base.
Glaus has been laboring through a cold spell at the plate, so Gibbons opted to give the third baseman the day off. Since July 16, when Glaus' average stood at .296, he's hit just .125 (8-for-64) with one home run and seven RBIs in 17 games. Glaus has just two hits in his past 30 at-bats, and none in his last 11.
Gibbons said that the left heel injury that Glaus sustained earlier this season still presents problems occasionally for the 6-foot-5 third baseman. That being the case, Toronto's manager said it's important for Glaus to receive a day off every now and then.
"He'll get to turning it around," Gibbons said. "He's been beat up, and it's tough for him to go out there every day with that foot. It affects both sides of the ball, but we need him to do it and he's doing it."
Lining things up: Gibbons also gave veteran Matt Stairs the start at first base on Sunday to provide a day off for Lyle Overbay, who has been fighting through a persistent slump. Since being activated from the 15-day disabled list on July 12, Overbay has hit .239 (16-for-67).
"He's just coming off the ball," Gibbons said. "When he's going good, he's pounding the ball to left-center. Right now, there's too much body in his swing."
Ray Olmedo got the nod to start at shortstop for the Blue Jays, spelling John McDonald, who had started the past seven games. It marked the first appearance this season for Olmedo since Toronto purchased the infielder's contract from Triple-A Syracuse on Friday.
Chart climber: Not only did Frank Thomas move into 20th place on the all-time home run list with two blasts on Saturday, he also claimed the 24th spot on the all-time RBI chart. With four RBIs in the win for the Jays, Thomas (1,639) passed Hall of Famer Ernie Banks for the 24th-highest total in baseball history. Entering Sunday, Thomas was six RBIs shy of Texas' Sammy Sosa for 23rd place.
O Canada: On Sunday, Stairs became only the third Canadian-born player to reach 1,500 games played in a big league career. With his start against the Rangers, the 39-year-old Stairs -- a native of New Brunswick -- joined Larry Walker (1,988 games) and Terry Puhl (1,531) as the only Canadians to accomplish the feat.
Did you know? When Thomas went yard in the first inning on Saturday, the blast snapped a span of 66 consecutive homerless innings for the Blue Jays. That was the longest such drought since Toronto went without a home run for 60 straight innings from Aug. 24-Sept. 2, 2005.
Coming up: Blue Jays right-hander Jesse Litsch (4-4, 3.47 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound in the opener of a three-game set against the Yankees at 1:07 p.m. ET on Monday at Rogers Centre. New York will counter with lefty Andy Pettitte (7-7, 3.97).
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.